Tue
Jan 22 2013 2:00pm

What Will Be the Defining Conflict of the Wheel of Time’s Fourth Age?

What Will Be the Defining Conflict of the Wheel of Time’s Fourth Age?

In one Age, called the Third Age by some, an Age yet to come, an Age long past….

These words open every Wheel of Time novel and illustrate the cyclical nature of the world of Robert Jordan’s epic fantasy series. Those who read deeper into the series eventually find out that the title of the series is eponymous; that the Wheel is comprised of seven Ages in total, and that the events of any one Age eventually repeat when the Wheel makes a full revolution. Jordan’s series chronicles the final years of the Third Age of this world, an age that has been defined by a millennias-long struggle against the Dark One, the literal embodiment of evil.

That struggle has come to an end in the recently published final book of the series, A Memory of Light, and we have been left to wonder how our favorite characters will progress into this new Fourth Age. While we’ve had some fun theorizing on possible futures, a larger anthropological question remains: what happens when you take away the antagonist that has motivated mankind for thousands of years?

SPOILERS for A Memory of Light ahead.

The Ages of the Wheel of Time have always been defined in hindsight by a discovery or conflict that fundamentally changes the way humanity interacts with the world, or even with reality itself. In the text of the series, it is hinted that our own time comprised the First Age, and that this Age ended when humanity discovered how to channel the One Power.

The Second Age is shorthanded as the “Age of Legends” and comprises an era where channeling and scientific advancement have led to a veritable utopia. This age ended when the Dark One was brought into the world, leading to a degradation of that utopia and a series of conflicts that changed the face of the planet itself.

The Third Age, the age depicted in the books, is defined by constant struggles against the forces of the Dark One. During the events of A Memory of Light, the Dark One was sealed away from the world. By definition, this began the Fourth Age, since this event created a world that could no longer be directly affected by the Dark One, a state that the world had not been in for thousands of years.

While we have been given glimpses of the coming Fourth Age, glimpses that include some of the conflicts that are most likely to arise, we don’t know for sure what will end up being the defining identity of the Fourth Age. And we’ll probably never know, but we can have fun speculating! Below are a few ideas as to how the Fourth Age might develop, and how it might progress into the Fifth Age.

 

Before that, though, we should lay out the few facts about the Ages that we do have:

1.) Ages are at minimum more than one thousand years long, if only to ensure that knowledge becomes obscured. This has been borne out in the three Ages that we know of, and it’s built into the introductory language of each book. Memories will turn to legend and legend will turn to myth, etc... but just getting memories to turn into legend takes time. And considering that some of the characters that come out the other side of A Memory of Light are going to live for hundreds of years, living memory of the events at the end of the Third Age will most likely persist for at least a millennia.

(Consider our own Age, as well. The 11th century is still documented history, not quite legend, and our lifespans are significantly shorter than the channelers in the book series.)

2.) Wars occur in Ages but never quite define them. The Third Age plays host to several world-spanning wars but none of those conflicts, taken out of their context, defines that Age, even if that war involves changing the geography of the entire planet. The outcome of a war can produce an event that starts or ends an Age, which is certainly the case at the end of the Third Age, but otherwise wars tend to be events in a larger Age-spanning history.

3.) The world will be broken or remade again. In the First and Second Ages, the geography of the planet was the one that we’re familiar with. (Barring some unknown but probably technically possible Power-centric adjustments in the Second Age?) In the Third Age that landscape was changed dramatically into something completely unrecognizable. This means that at some point before the First Age comes again, the land will have to be broken, or terraformed, into the continents and oceans that we’re familiar with. This doesn’t necessarily have to happen in the Fourth Age, but it will happen.

4.) The ability to channel will disappear. Like the geography of the planet, the residents of the First Age had no conception of the One Power or channeling. The presence of wilders or channeling sickness was also non-existent, suggesting that at some point between the Fourth and ensuing First Age, the ability to channel is separated from humanity on a genetic and/or metaphysical level. This event is akin to a second Breaking of the World, in that it doesn’t need to happen in the Fourth Age, but definitely happens at some point. (Before A Memory of Light showed up, it was even theorized that this would happen at the end of the Third Age.)

What a cheery bunch of certainties! With these guideposts in mind, we can move forward with speculating (somewhat) anthropologically on how humankind might progress and what change or discovery might ultimately define the Fourth Age.

 

Some scenarios:

1.) Unprecedented Peace. Given the possible future we’ve seen regarding the fate of the Aiel people, this seems unlikely. We do know, however, that this future is subject to change and it may be that the dominant political powers at the beginning of the Fourth Age ultimately end up working together, even if they go through a Cold War or two.

Although it wouldn’t be exciting, an Age devoid of war would be unique, and it would really only take the world rediscovering war to change it from a Fourth Age to a Fifth. And from a population standpoint, humanity needs some relatively quiet millennia after the winnowing that occurred throughout the Third Age. After all, it took us 1800 years to grow from a planetary population of 200 million to 1 billion, and we were fighting the entire time!

The Second Age, the Age of Legends, was also notable for being an Age of peace.

2.) A Second Age of Legends. In fact, if peace prevails then the only thing preventing the Fourth Age from being another Age of Legends is the advancement of technology, both Power and non-Power-based.

In this case, let’s give the Fourth Age denizens the benefit of the doubt and conjecture that they race forward from their medieval/Renaissance level of tech and into the info and tech of the modern day and beyond. It only took us about 600 years, after all, and the denizens of the Fourth Age actually have a leg up on us in that regard since their source of information and research on the One Power is already centralized, categorized, and now able to disseminate information instantly across vast distances.

This could happen even if Rand’s schools don’t grow into universities and begin furthering the sciences. Which gives us another option for the Fourth Age.

3.) A Perfect Synthesis of Science and Magic. The Third Age was largely devoid of scientific knowledge and study, thanks to a number of factors. Knowledge and methods were continually lost thanks to a succession of wars in the Third Age that devastated population centers. At the same time, the One Power and Aes Sedai could maintain a number of comforts and advances without having to understand the science behind what they were manipulating. This further inhibited scientific study because, after all, why bother when the One Power could already do it and, in many cases, do it better than centuries of scientific study could achieve?

If Rand’s schools grow then this is bound to change in the Fourth Age, most likely to the point where scientific study and channeling knowledge will be able to work in complementary ways with each other. For example, science could decide how best to build a house and out of what materials, and channeling could provide the energy to craft those materials and assemble the structure in a matter of moments. Or channelers could craft gateways that would take anyone around the world, and mathematicians could use that to create a longitudinal system that could map the globe in precise detail.

If such progress went on for long enough, scientific knowledge and the One Power could even combine to create starships that would travel the galaxy. (Moghedien even hinted at such a thing in Lord of Chaos.) A perfect synthesis of the two approaches combining to achieve something neither could do on its own.

This is, of course, ignoring the fact that in the Third Age, burgeoning scientific methods have been used against Aes Sedai and channelers just as much as they have been used to help them. Forkroot tea numbs the metaphysical mechanism used to channel. Cannons can obliterate a hilltop from a tremendous distance in a way that only a handful of channelers in the world can manage. Extrapolating just these two methods leads to some pretty serious antagonization of channelers, which brings us to a far more likely scenario.

4.) Science and the One Power Struggle For Dominance. As much as we’d like to imagine the world getting to rest after centuries of struggle, that probably would not occur. There will be struggles between powers, and those powers will attempt to utilize any method necessary to gain the upper hand. If Seanchan attacks you with damane and raken? Shoot them with all those cannons you’ve been mass-producing. (Also, good job on discovering mass production!) Are cannons giving you trouble? Warp the metal with a simple weave of Earth. Are gateways wreaking havoc on the battlefield? Develop a device that creates an electromagnetic field that makes the gateways impossible to form. And so on and so on....

Just because there would be more than one way to accomplish something doesn’t mean those accomplishments would be peaceful. At its worst, developing technology and developing One Power usage would turn into an arms race, with zealous supporters of either method elevating it into a lifestyle and actively portraying it as the superior ideology. This would incite further struggles between the two methods, despite the fact that most of the comforts that humanity enjoys were most likely brought about by a combination of the two methods.

The Fourth Age could very well be defined by this kind of conflict and stunted progress, with the Fifth Age coming about when one side dominates decisively or when progress evens out.

Or... things could get really crazy in the Fourth Age.

5.) Everyone Channels. No One Channels. If the world advances like envisioned in scenario #4, then the Fourth Age could ultimately be defined by a single extreme action designed to eliminate the struggle between technology and channeling. At some point, a method could be devised to abolish the very differences between the two methods.

This could be accomplished in two ways. Either you make it impossible for anyone to channel, or you make it possible for everyone to channel.

Perhaps the turn from Fourth Age into Fifth is that straightforward. Maybe a Seanchan-ruled world has exterminated all channelers and wishes there to be no more, so it figures out how to cut the world off from the One Power. Maybe humanity has suffered too many devastating attacks by users of the One Power and discovers it now has the scientific knowledge to sever it from humanity.

Or it could be more complex than that. Perhaps the Empire of the Sun grows into a vast, world-spanning conglomeration of utopian countries and wishes that all of its citizens be granted equal ability. Or maybe everyone is given access to the One Power by complete accident.

It could even be both. Maybe someone develops a genetic procedure that grants everyone the ability to channel, but which unknowingly ensures that humanity will only have offspring with nullified channeling genes. Maybe that’s a turning point into the Fifth Age. Or maybe that turning point is when the final channeler dies.

6.) Anything you want. We know the broad strokes of how the first few hundred years of the Fourth Age are likely to go, but if past Ages are any indication, the Fourth Age will be one that spans thousands of years, containing many, many twists and turns that all build on each other. It would take an entirely new fantasy series just to chronicle it, making an extrapolation of how the Fourth Age ends something wildly conjectural.

But that’s the fun part! In this post I imagine a conflict between proponents of science and the One Power being the struggle that finally cuts humanity off from the Source, ending the Age. But what do you imagine? Now that the end of the Third Age is known, what vision of the Fourth Age occurs to you?


Chris Lough is the production manager of Tor.com and knows for sure that the Sixth Age is one with all the roller disco.

This article is part of A Memory of Light: ‹ previous | index | next ›
42 comments
ShawnPCooke
1. ShawnPCooke
One thing I found remarkable about A Memory of Light was how gentle an end it was. The Dragon had been prophesied to break the world anew, but there was nowhere near the level of wholescale uprooting and devastation that we saw at the end of the Second Age. Comparatively speaking, the Third Age came in like a lion, but went out like a lamb. (March is the third month, right? It fits.)

What I find intriguing about the numbering of the ages is that the peoples of the First Age believed that theirs truly was the first, meaning that it must have been preceded by an unprecedented breaking.

There is one place where the One Power cannot be channeled, cannot even be sensed, and those are the stedding. (I mean naturally, not through a ter'angreal.) I can conceive of an Age in which the stedding begin to increase in size until they cover the entire world. Perhaps this is why no channeling exists in our Age.... we're in a stedding right now.

Of course, there may be places on the planet, isolated locations of power that the stedding have not quite reached. A great deal of supernatural phenomena might be explained by these gaps.
Marcus W
2. toryx
The problem with any effective prediction of what the Fourth Age might be like is that there are yet another three Ages that will follow it before the Age we recognize our own can come again. Given the substantive differences to the state of affairs at the beginning of the Fourth Age and whatever the supposed beginning of the First Age would be, a lot of remarkably substantial changes must occur, as well as another Breaking.

After all, the Fourth Age appears to be the beginning of a new industrial society. But all of that has to be wiped away, along with the ability to channel, before the 1st Age can roll around again. It doesn't seem like either of those events will occur in the Fourth Age, though perhaps one could happen at the end of the Age to usher in the Fifth.

My only real guess about the Fourth Age is that it won't be a period of peace or another Age of Legends. The Dragon's Peace might hold for a while but Seachan is a mess and not particularly likely to play nice, and Shara is surely going to descend into utter chaos as well. The Shadow beasts are likely to still be around for a few centuries more, which will also give rise to violence.

Since the Song wasn't found (one of my larger disappointments, frankly) industrializations will also likely lead to widespread pollution. And I wouldn't be surprised at all to find that the Black and White towers do some serious head butting; with leaders as uncompromising as Caduane and paranoid as Logain, friction is undoubtedly going to arise.

Yeah, I bet it'll be far from fluffy bunnies of happiness in Randland.
Nadine L.
3. travyl
Giving that I know quite a few characters whom I like and will live hopefully up to hundreds of years into the fourth age, (Nynaeve for example) I would wish for them a time of peace.
Therefore I'll go with your third option, that macig and technology will develop, work together to fashion some kind of utopia (which can never persist, given what we know of mankind).
The 5th age will be defined by the struggle and competition between One Power and Technology. People will seek for dominance over and extermination of the One Power, because not everyone has access to it (and the genetic-access is just unfair). This will ultimately lead to the end of people being able to use the One Power, marking the beginning of the 6th age (which gives us two ages (6+7) to completely forget that the one Power was ever more than myth and fantasy in the coming of the first age.

By the way, I can't imagine that a seanchan-based world will evolve at the begining of the 4th age. We have the dragons peace (and Mat) enforcing that Tuon (may she live that long) will uphold the treaty she signed with Rand and fleshed out with Egwene.
The Seanchan will have to live next to neighbours where Aes Sedai walk unmolested. Some common soldiers did fight alongside them in the Last Battle, so they know that not every Aes Sedai is the uncontrollable beast that needs to be leashed as they thought. I think this gives reason for hope, that with Time (and Mat and maybe Min's influence) the seanchan will change their view of channelers.
(hopefully not to soon, Moghedien needs to die, before they release their damane after all).

But ultimately people are jealous and if not everyone gains access and even if everyone gains access but is not similarly strong, sometime in the future (hopefully not the fourth age) technology will be used for a struggle against the one power...
Dave West
4. Jhirrad
I had a very interesting discussion regarding this topic at the Chicago signing for A Memory of Light with some of the other fans there. My take on it is much like what you list in point 4. While I believe the Dragon's Peace will last at least a century, maybe more, I think the 4th Age will be dominated by the ultimate competition between technological advancement and magic. Whereas before having channelers would have made a nation the strongest military power in the world by virtue of the ability to kill and destroy at a great distance with little risk to themselves, the development we've already seen of technology begins to level the field. Aes Sedai aren't the most understanding, compassionate people, and I have no doubt that they will want to keep their place on top of the pyramid. That is what I think will ultimately define the 4th Age.
Roger Powell
5. forkroot
Chris
In the text of the series, it is hinted that our own time comprised the First Age, and that this Age ended when humanity discovered how to channel the One Power.
This is not correct. The portal stones are stated to come from of an Age before the Age of Legends - and these stones require channeling to activate them. So either there has to be an Age between "our" age and the Second Age, or if we are in the First Age we will have to discover channeling and create the portal stones later (unlikely.)


We are more likely in the Seventh Age and we will apparently end this Age by "nuking" ourselves (Mosk and Merc, etc.) into the First Age.
Karen Fox
6. thepupxpert
Thanks for this article Chris and I greatly enjoyed the comments above. Just finished AMOL and still digesting everything, but you have made me think how wonderful it would be to continue the series, maybe starting from the end of the 4th age?
ShawnPCooke
7. rblack79
Personally I see the Black Tower rising and the White Tower falling. With Woman being looked at like men have been in the third age (though maybe not for the same reasons or to the same degree). This will add that cyclical feel to things where we leave an age where women were the dominent sex because of the ability to channel and men were considered the lesser sex. Over the next age I could see that change to with the end of the age being were women who can channel are hunted down as "witchs" and male channelers dominate the planet. With the end being a union again and then a loss of the ability at the end of the 6th or 7th age.
Mordicai Knode
8. mordicai
Shards of possible realities fighting to decide which is the "real" reality.
Christopher Turkel
9. Applekey
I disagree. I think we are in the Seventh Age. There is just too much to happen before the new Second Age rolls around. The end of the Seventh Age is some kind of world war that devastates the planet and the recovery dominates the First Age. Then channelling is re-discovered and onto the Second Age we go.
Drew Holton
10. Dholton
I believe I remember reading somewhere that Jordan said that abilities like those of Min, Perrin and Hurin (sniffing violence) were in essence precursors of the new Age to come. So in additon to Science vs One Power, you also have all sorts of new abilities popping up in the general population to stir the mix even more.
Roger Powell
11. forkroot
DHolton - Do you have that quotation? My memory is that powers like Hurin's, and Min's, and Perrin's were very, very old (although with a wheel if you go far back enough, it's the same as going forward eh?)

I do like your point about these non-channeling type abilities.
matt
12. graftonio
I'm not sure what the defining conflict of the fourth age will be but I bet the outcome is ....

"Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria!"
ShawnPCooke
13. The Lord Drongo
The defining conflict of the Fourth Age? It's obviously going to be: should women be permitted to enhance their natural beauty by growing beards, in honour of the Dragon Reborn, Rand al'Thor? Through billions upon billions of years of the Fourth Age it rages, world without end ...
Gabor Kecskemeti
15. gkecskem
@11 forkroot: From theoryland interview database, TOR Questions of the Week Part II:

WEEK 13 QUESTION
If a wolfbrother is reborn in another Age, will he be a wolfbrother again? In other words, is being a wolfbrother a trait related to the soul? Can women be wolfbrothers?
ROBERT JORDAN
Women certainly can be wolfbrothers, though the term would be wolfsisters. A wolfbrother or wolfsister reborn in another age would only be a wolfbrother or wolfsister again if that were possible in that Age. The ability to speak with wolves doesn't exist in every Age. In the "current" Age, it is a fairly new thing, appearing not too long ago. There are tales of it, sometimes just vague stories of people who supposedly "can talk to animals," without necessarily mentioning wolves, but remember that Elyas's ability was taken, at least by some Aes Sedai, as a sign that he was linked to the Shadow.

WEEK 16 QUESTION
Is there any relationship between Foretelling and Min's viewings? Or is Foretelling a talent that only manifests in someone who can channel? Is Min's ability completely unique, or has it appeared in Ages past?ROBERT JORDAN
There is no relationship whatsoever between Foretelling, which manifests only in someone who can channel, and Min's viewings. There have been versions of Min's viewings in some previous ages, though not exactly the same. Min, and the sniffers, and wolfbrothers appearing are all highly indicative, you know. New abilities, for this Age, are appearing, and that in itself indicates great changes coming. Great changes underway. Min's abilities will not remain unique; we have already seen one wolfbrother besides Perrin and Elyas, though a pitiful soul who couldn't master his gift, and there will be other sniffers. The Age is changing. The Wheel never stands still.
John Pigott
16. AbEnd
Do we have full knowledge of the Randland globe and all the landmasses it contains? Are there other unknown lands beyond Shara and Seanchan? Always have room for conflict when new peoples are found.
S Cooper
17. SPC
Another issue, if not conflict, is that the channelers are going to have to come to terms with keeping their numbers up. The Aes Sedai and the Kin do not have children. If they continue Egwene's push to tie all channelers to the tower and do a better job of recruiting, the number of reproducing channeling women in the population will go down. The Black Tower was accepting of wives, but it'd remain to be seen whether the men can marry once they become Asha'man or if only the already-married ones are grandfathered in. If the large organizations aren't careful, only the Wise Ones and Windfinders will be reproducing.
Drew Holton
18. Dholton
@15

Yes, thank you! That's what I was remembering.
ShawnPCooke
19. edlicious
@2, perhaps the Song was found, just not by the Tinkers just yet. During the battle a song was sung that brought life and growth. All things considered, that's likely The Song.

In regards to Ages, the nature of which and human limitation, we can't guess which "number" Age it actually is. I'm not sure if we are meant to mix the metaphors of the Wheel of Time with the concept that Ages will in fact repeat per se. Souls are reincarnated, and the history does repeat to some extent, but within the understanding of time. Only one person was able to stand outside of the Pattern to observe it.

The Age Lace could very well be a moebius strip of Ages, who knows how many Ages that entails, or lands, or planets. Maybe it's all just in the Matrix. CTRL-ALT-DELETE
Chuk Goodin
20. Chuk
Neat speculations -- ShawnPCooke @1, that stedding idea is good.
ShawnPCooke
21. Victor Sanchez
How about the fourth age radical event be Telepathy...:)
ShawnPCooke
22. AleksisMichael
the impossible pipe, that will be the fourth age, a world of waking dreamers

I dont know why everyones so focused on channeling i know its awesome 500 year life etc but dreamers are more powerful then channelers in the dream world and now people are starting to become dreamers in the waking world it seems like based on Rand

on a sidenote id like a tie in of all the various black ajah factions like the ones mogedian snatched up and how thier lives went what choices etc and if they survived the last battle how they did what and perhaps some of thier orders had been? would be sorta interesting to know various wierd things like that... i always wondered if mogedian was hiding near elayne and others did to i think lol
Birgit
23. birgit
Do we have full knowledge of the Randland globe and all the landmasses it contains? Are there other unknown lands beyond Shara and Seanchan?

There is a world map in the BBoBA. The Land of Madmen is another unknown continent.

The Aes Sedai and the Kin do not have children.

Elayne suggested that Kin are allowed to marry to make retiring more attractive for AS and help distinguish between the two groups.
ShawnPCooke
24. Julie G
I wonder if the coming age won't be somewhat similar to our own history. People at one time believed in magic and spirits. Technology now does things that would be perceived as magic by people of the past. Perhaps at some point channeling will disappear and eventually be viewed in the same way magic is by us.
(Forgive me for my rambling. The thought is there, it's just not coming out the way I want.)
ShawnPCooke
25. Lezlie
It seems to me that an Industrial Revolution and an Age of Exploration of sorts - with the fascinating possibility of the overthrow of the Ancien Régime and révolution - is upon this world of Robert Jordan's.
What would happen to to channelers and dreamers (of both sexes) when anyone can do most of what these charactors do with the assistance of a machine? Would they become entrenched? Find new knowledge? Fade away or become obsolete?
How would a "people's revolution" fueled by a rising bourgeois class
fare against the entrenched aristocracy or the rigid Seanchan society? Would a reign of terror engulf Andor? Or a parlement replace the monarchy of many nations?
How would the meaning of "wealth" change?
As the nature of warfare changes, would the enforced "Dragon's Peace" prevent or create the equivelant of the great wars of the 20th century - and - how would they come into play?
With the women taking up arms and the influence of the Aeil Maidens, how would the roles of women change (from Aes Shadai to farmwives ...)? Would the seafareing peoples' monpolize the trade routes, still? What woild happen if a nation invented steamships or airflight for moving cargo?
Plenty of rich ground for tales of the 4th age, IMHO...
ShawnPCooke
26. dm4hire
I would love to see the WoT RPG rewritten to include all the books and maybe presented in a way that players are given to find out what the new age holds in store for the world, thereby keeping the world alive in spirit. The best thing is that game wouldn't conflict with the series and vice versa. It's a great start point, as your characters could be survivors from the final battle. The RPG could also serve as a compendium for the series.
ShawnPCooke
27. Jehan Sedai
Small nitpick first: millennia is already a plural, so "millennias-long" made me twitchy. Sorry. Moving on to actual feedback.

We know a few things about the dawn of the Age of Legends. For one, Jim told us that we live in the First Age, right there in book 1 with talk of Mosk and Merk, the Giants who dueled with spears of fire. Mosk -- Moscow -- and Merk -- America -- never actually did dance with spears of fire but the legend makes sense as a *very* distant retelling of the Cold War.

You say that Ages need to be millennia long, but in some cases I think that to be an understatement. Consider the Age of Legends, when science and magic *were* at their peak and perfectly intertwined. Technology -- also know as ter'angreal -- existed in the forms that we might expect in any advanced society, and because of things like the Standing Flows, did not require any Aes Sedai's active participation.

We know a small few things about their recordkeeping. Books were not unknown, thank the Light, but they appear to have been in the minority. Imagine our own situation with nooks and Kindles and the like, only turned up to excessive levels. Remember the library ter'angreal discovered by Aviendha and Elayne? It seems likely that they were as common to the citizens of the Age of Legends as our e-readers are to us; but Aviendha's Talent being as rare as it is means that most of them were lost to us. Consider further: for the most part, ter'angreal took forms that suited each individual. Think of it like being able to custom-order a nook to look like anything you wished. Naturally we're unable to find them or understand them if we did, in fact, find any.

The point I'm circling is that the Age of Legends likely had very, very detailed histories, and would have to have been very long indeed for them to forget much about us. Eight thousand years at minimum seems almost necessary. And although you said no war defines an Age, I can only imagine some catastrophic event that destroys our own record-keeping systems -- imagine, if you will, a particularly strong solar flare, capable of wiping out our computer infrastructure -- followed by a series of wars that destroy much of our printed history. War is almost necessary to the concept of the Wheel, because it does two things: it drives the advancements of mankind, but it also destroys our past. In our own history we need only look at the Library of Alexandria, and weep for what we have lost.

Remember also that the Modern Age -- for lack of a bettern name for the First Age -- ends with the birth of the first channelers. If I had to guess, I imagine genetic engineering is involved, making this event some several centuries in our future. Jim has told us, after all, that channeling requires two things: a gift of the soul, and an unlocked key in the body's genetics. That is why channelers' souls reborn into this Age don't have that ability now. We don't have the genetic makeup in this day to be *able* the channel. Now think about our world. What would happen to us, even if it's another few centuries down the line, if channelers suddenly began manifesting around the world. Can you not imagine the devestation of such an event? It would be excessively catastrophic. Given that the Pattern itself is like a great storyteller, I prefer to think that it purposefully gave us back our channeling right around the time of my aforementioned solar flare -- or whatever else brought our technology to its knees -- so that the wars for dominance in the "post-Apocalyptic" war would be that much worse, driven by living weapons. If given that the Dragon is born to every Age, it's possible that the Dragon born to the twilight of the Modern Age would be the one channeler to help save us from that war. No Shadow need be required, just the hubris and avarice of man, for the planet to see its worst world-wide war ever. We would *need* a savior of sorts.

Now, we have the dawn of the Second Age. All I have done is taken what Jim has already does us, and extrapolated further. But let's look backward. How about the dawn of the First Age? How far back do we need to go to find the most recent Seventh Age?

{I need to make a small digression here. My own personal theory is that the First and Seventh Ages are not millenia long, but billions of years long. The Wheel of Time exists in our own world, with our own understanding of physics: the Big Bang was not the first such event. So it's my own personal pet theory, one that I doubt Mr. Rigney would agree with in the slightest, that we literally can't remember the Seventh Age at all because it is from a previous iteration of the universe. Otherwise, why number the Ages? What else could it *mean* to be the *First* Age? But as I said, I don't think Jim saw it this way, so for the sake of this post I will take the more common interpretation of Ages.}

We have in our world stories that virtually none of us believe, of civilizations in the ancient world that make our own look infantile. Call them Atlantis, Mu, or whatever else, for centuries we actually believed these places existed and that they had technology beyond our imagining. So in the context of the Wheel of Time, does it not make sense that that civilization would be a whole different Age from our own? For the sake of brevity I will simply call the Seventh Age society Atlantis, whether or not that is what Jim had in mind. Some kind of event ended their civilization as surely as the Second Age ended. It's impossible to say what that event was since it is impossible to speculate what kind of technology they had. Instead, let's guess how long ago their civilization was. It's pretty clear to all of us that there is no sunken continent out there. If we instead think of it as a Lost Continent, could it not be a place that was significantly far away from Greece, known to us but forgotten to Europe? I could postulate the Americas, or east Asia, or any number of ideas, but it's almost irrelevent where. Suffice it to say that it was not Europe, western Asia or northern Africa, the World As They Knew It to ancient Greece. How long would it have to be for memory of such an advanced civilization to fade? Plato knew of it, but he was a scholar; and even to him it must have been legend. Plato lived roughly 2500 hundred years ago, but I wouldn't call ancient Greece "legendary" -- we know a fair amount of history from that time, even if our knowledge has some significant gaps. To be fair, some of what we know is rediscovered through means we did not have a few hundred years ago; and although we now know Troy to be a real place, the Trojan War is still basically legend. So perhaps you could say that Atlantis ended a mere five millennia ago, double the time from our time back to Plato. That seems to me to be too short a span of time, because we have archaeological records dating back further than that. We know what mankind was like back some twenty-five millennia. The problem here is that, since we live in the First Age of the story, it's hard to separate the world of the story from our own world. Maybe it's impossible to use our world to speculate how far away Jim thought the Seventh Age was, purely because in his world archaeological records *don't* fail to find Atlantis. Who knows? Well, perhaps Miss Harriet does, but for the rest of us it's pure speculation.

What about the people of the Seventh Age? Did they channel? Well, while that is also pure speculation, I have to guess that no, there was no channeling in the Seventh Age. Why? Purely because it seems odd to me that in all the Seven Ages, only one would lack channeling; and coincidentally, that Age is our own. It would be an exceptionally ham-fisted way to make the world of the Wheel of Time into our own, by merely handwaving away the question of why we cannot channel.

So what is the point of everything I just said? It seems to have little to do with this post at hand. Well, simply put: what is past is prologue. You have to look back to look forward.

So from the above, I believe strongly that there is no channeling in the Seventh and First Ages, and we know that there *is* channeling in the Second through Fourth Ages. What is the Wheel of Time if not balance? If the end of the First Age marks the return of channeling, when do we lose it? Perhaps at the polar opposite end of the Wheel: the middle of the Fifth Age. That means the entire of the Fourth Age, however many millennia it lasts, would know channeling. Apply that to the original post's speculation, and it seems that channeling and science must work hand-in-hand for a time, but that millennia beyond Rand's time, science wins. Why and how are beyond me to guess, because the world of tens of millennia from today must needs be incomprehensibly weird. Just as Plato could not comprehend the internet or the nook, I cannot begin to guess at the world of the Fifth Age. So I'll confine my theorizing to the Fourth.

Ages are often defined in sharp strokes. The First Age was free of magic; the Second Age was largely utopian; the Third Age can best be described as Sword and Sorcery. If the end of channeling is the middle of the Fifth Age, I do not expect the Fourth Age to contain any more than the most basic seeds of that eventual end. So I envision that the Fourth Age will be consistent, a period of twin towers of Science and Magic. Will they combine? Perhaps, but with channeling slated for execution -- so to speak :) -- in the following Age, I don't see that as likely. The Second Age was marked by the seemless blend of technology and magic; why would the Fourth Age be the same? No, I think channeling will reach a new peak, a perfect crescendo... but like all crescendos it will necessary fall afterwards. Science, then, will begin its rise to prominance that will, perhaps, see its peak power by the Seventh Age.

Hm. How's this for crazy theories of the post-channeling Ages? Some people in our world believe that ancient civilizations were influenced by aliens. What if those aliens are human? What if we learn spaceflight, master the art of leaving the Earth behind -- perhaps to give it time to let it heal from all the damage we've done to it over the years, or for whatever other reason -- only to return during the Seventh Age, where we find the primitive remains of a new human race. And those of us who leapt to the stars then guide those of us who remained, forming the bases of "early" civilizations the world around.

Huh. I never expected to come to that theory when I began this post. Fascinating.
ShawnPCooke
28. The Questioner
The thing that gets me in all the earlier volumes of WOT is the lack of imparting or getting information quickly. The way that the Amerlins Suan and Elaida are blinded by lack of true information form a major part of the early books and allows certain things to happen couldn't possibly occur if there was a simple post chase formed by all the competeing parties. Niall Pedron was actually kept in an ignorance that cost him his life by the simple lack of a postman.
ShawnPCooke
29. MartinCahn
First of all, I have to say that I consider myself a fairly smart person, but I never thought of Mosk and Mersk as Moscow and America. Therefore, I had never thought of our time as being part of any of the ages. I always read the books from the viewpoint that it was either an alternate Earth or a completely separate world outside of any Earth context. Once Jehan explained it (#27), it makes a lot of sense, though.

How interesting to think that we are part of the cycle. After all these years of reading and enjoying the books ... it puts a wholly different perspective on the world-building Jordan presented to us. Fictionally speaking, it would be cool to think that we could be at a point in the Wheel's turning -- likely the end of an Age -- where humans could begin manifesting channeling. If Jordan were still around, or his wife would allow Sanderson, that story would be quite entertaining: how channeling first came to be, pitching the "modern" world into some type of upheaval.

But this was supposed to be a question of what the Fourth Age might be like. I doubt highly it will be a complete Utopia. With the Seanchan keeping their damane, the Shara -- despite the loss of their Wyld -- still filled with aggressive warriors and channelers, the Aeil acting as peacekeepers and yet quite anti-Seanchan ... these are the immediate things I think of that will continue to provide conflict.

Be that as it may, however, I do think most people's lives in the Fourth Age will be better than those in the Third. I believe industry will rise (the cannons are a beginning), but that channeling -- especially male channeling, thanks to Logain -- will be seen as less to be feared and more to be reveared. If the two towers (love that!) can get along or merge, we could see all new uses for saidin and saidar that the Third Age could not have imagined. The combination of an industrial rise and channeling's acceptance could foment an economic parity so that the poor aren't quite so downtrodden as often depicted in the series, and nobles aren't quite so all-powerful as they were before.

(On a third hand, so to speak, we could end up with a channeling elite -- where Aes Sedai, male and female -- gain both very high political and financial status.)

And I agree that we're seeing the manifestation of new/resurgance of old powers/talents such as Min's and Perrin's. The wolves talked about how they used to run with men, whereas I think some Aes Sedai said they'd never seen Min's talent before but that knowledge of it might simply have been lost. Don't have the novels or the guidebook in front of me, so I can't be sure. However, I think we would see others manifest themselves, too.

In fact, I've wondered about something for a while now: is Mat's luck simply super-ta'veren or is it actually a new/old talent that sprang up with him? All three main characters (and I would argue Egwene, too, since she was also from Emond's Field) were ta'veren ... why would only Mat have the whole luck thing?

So, new tech, a channeling renaissance, new talents/old rediscovered and a better life for most people while there are still geopolitical struggles to overcome. I wouldn't mind living there.
ShawnPCooke
30. MartinCahn
Oh, and may I add as an aside that I LOVE that rendering of Tar Valon at the top. Gorgeous! Who painted it and do they have othe representations of places in the Wheel of Time?
ShawnPCooke
31. DylanAlexander
As mentioned in an early comment, Lanfear states in The Great Hunt that the portal stones (which require the power to function) are from an age before the Age of Legends. We don't have portal stones, so an argument exists we are in the Seventh Age, not the First. The stronger argument is that this an example of several things that weren't fully fleshed out and have been or need to be retconned.

If anyone doesn't remember the references to our Age, it's mostly early in the Eye of the World through Thom telling stories. Mosk and Merk, giants fighting with lances of fire is a reference to the age ending nuclear war. Elsbet, queen of all, is a remembrance of Elizabeth I, and "Anla the Wise Counselor" is a hilarious suggestion that Ann Landers will be one of the few remembered from our age. In a later book in the Tanchico(?) museum there's a a symbol of "pride and arrogance" made from an unfamiliar substance that has a sense of immense age and is pretty obviously from its description a Mercedes hood ornament.
Wayne Krone
32. wkrone
I also like ShawnPCooke @1 stedding idea. To elaborate: Suppose a world wide stedding is the natural or original state of the planet. And in our current age as our cutting down of forests, environmental pollution, and strife from an ever increasing population engages in ever more frequent conflicts (on scales from the personal to national) all reach some critical mass the world wide stedding begins to break down. The potential channelers who have always been among us then begin finding their talent (poorly at first since they are all unguided) and the second age begins.

I suggest the seventh age ends with a catastrophic asteroid hit or similar which reduces the human population to a bare handful. During the beginning of the new first age the natural world takes a long time to heal and as it does the stedding grows to encompass the entire world once again.
ShawnPCooke
33. Kartikeya GS
Well, in the Fouth Age we are witness to the glorious and peaceful reign of King Eldarion...whoops, wrong Fourth Age! :)

Seriously, though, I think the Fourth Age, while not without it's share of conflict, will be an age where channeling is rediscovered to its fullest potential. I suppose that, after overcoming some distrust and paranoia, the Two Towers will probably unite and work together ushering in an era of cultural and scientific enlightenment.

It cannot be another Age of Legends since the cyclical nature of the wheel implies that there won't be another Age of Legends until the Second Age comes around again.

As for the Seanchan, they would probably hover on the fringes for a while before they eventually sort of adapt to or accept some of the habits of the Oathbreakers. I mean, I think a large amount of their weirdness comes from their being insulated from anything different for millennia. Interactions with new cultures will result in a gradual softening of their ways. Or may be they'll just remain pricks. Who knows.

Traveling will have triggered a wave of globalization...businesses suddenly mushroom...the Aes Sedai are faced with their greatest world-threatening challenge yet...Pepsicoke!

Team Jordan...Outriggers!
Wayne Krone
34. wkrone
In broad strokes:

4th Age: Population rebuilds. Mixed science and power based technology. Periods of peace, periods of war. Economy and education levels build to and surpass the best of today's world. Age ends with the advent of space travel.

5th Age: Human civilization spreads to the stars. Combination of Traveling and high tech allow effective "faster than light" travel between stars. Human interstellar empire develops. Possibly encompassing other races. Age ends with conflict between Earth and another interstellar superpower.

6th Age: Earth is a part of another power's empire. Earth is still a high tech civilization but gradually becomes less important and less involved in interstellar economic and social exchange. Age ends when Earth turns completely inward. Possibly because of a big internal war or possibly the result of some movement that begins to turn away from technology and interstellar relations.

7th Age: Civilization continues but begins long decline. General, gradual decline in higher tech capability. For example, space travel capability ends. Age ends when large asteroid hits (by which time we no longer have the ability to stop it) and wipes out all but a remnant of the human population. The remaining population is reduced to the stone age.

1st Age: At the outset Earth regains world wide stedding. We begin climb back to where we are today. Whose excesses begins break down of world wide stedding, the rise of channelers, and the start of the 2nd Age.

Portal stones could have been a product from the height of any of the 4th, 5th or 6th Ages.

In contrast to the relatively short 3rd Age I see each of the other Ages as at least tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of years long.
ShawnPCooke
35. Mazelin
Outstanding and well thought out responses here thus far. I just finished AMOL this morning and my mind is abuzz with possibilities for the 4th age. One thing that I would point out to those that are suggesting we can't be in the first age because of the portal stones is that this age isn't over. We may still (theoretically of course) discover the technology of the portal stones, and to tie it in with what someone else suggested, channeling. It may even be possible that the end of our age has something to do with channeling and the portal stones.

Considering the Age of Legends was the 2nd Age, it is entirely possible that the end of the first age wasn't cataclysmic, but Age changing nonetheless. After all the end of the third age wasn't as bad as the end of the second, but definitely changed the world in exquisite ways.

One thing I would predict about the 4th age is a sort of renaissance in the Seanchan view of channeling. Considering the growing ambiguity about sul'dam marath'damane, and the treaty with Rand/Egwene (assuming those hold), I could see the sul'dam and damane being combined into a new caste that would provide them with a new social status that still works in the framework of the Seanchan world view. In this way, Fortuona herself wouldn't be seen as much of an oddity at being a potential channeler. The transition would be by no means smooth or easy, but if handled with the right amount of timing and subtlety, it wouldn't necessarily have to destroy the Empire.

Fortuona could begin by declaring that damane are elevated to the level of so'jhin and the sul'dam to the level of the low blood, for their part in defeating the shadow and in anticipation of re-consolidating their homeland. By the time Knotai has helped reclaim Seanchan, the average citizen would have seen that the non Seanchan channelers on the Randland side of the Aryth Ocean aren't rabid destroyers; the elevated statuses of the damane and sul'dam would be accepted enough to reveal that all of them can channel. Boom. A new class of channelers subject to the Empress May She Live Forever that can enjoy a status comparable to the channelers of the Empire of the Sun.

By the time Fortuona and Knotai's children ascend the throne, the leash will be a relic of a more primitive age.
Birgit
36. birgit
All three main characters (and I would argue Egwene, too, since she was also from Emond's Field) were ta'veren

RJ said no major female character is ta'veren. Siuan (and Logain) has the Talent to see ta'veren and would have noticed if Eg were ta'veren.
Deana Whitney
37. Braid_Tug
@15, gkecskem: Thank you for pulling up the reference.

@ 17, SPC: Regarding Asha’man marrying. I don’t see the guys doing away with marriage or children. Male orders that were nominally “celibate” tend to decline over time. Or open the door to charges of “corruption” because anytime one does have a wife, there is a fit.

Remember, the White Tower doesn’t forbid their members from marrying, it’s just rare. Because of “guys not being able to handle a wife with more power than him.” Which really is one of the most honest, yet sad comments of the whole “war of the sexes” in these books.

What I see is more Asha’man and Ase Sedai marrying. Kids? Maybe if they live in the Black Tower. I see the White Tower being more of the “kids not really welcomed” here place.


@27, Jehan Sedai: Wow, that is a serious wall of text! But you do make some really great points. Wonder what I would want my Kendal to look like?

@35, Mazelin: Fortuona elevating the damane... I don’t know about that. In her current thinking that would be like elevating a loyal dog to be part of the President’s cabinet. The Seanchan as a whole don’t think of the damane as people, but rather as really talented pet animals that can speak.
However, your idea would be an interesting work around to the problem.


In General:
Sea Folk, not my favorite people, but I like the sly reference to them being excited by the “steam wagons.” Which, to me was a hint that soon there will be large steam ships traveling the waters of Randland. Wonder what their “Titanic” will be?
ShawnPCooke
38. Mazelin
@Braid_Tug: remember that it is only a matter of time before the general knowledge that sul'dam can channel gets out. As much as Fortuona might loathe the idea, maybe never even be comfortable with it, she would have to see that legitimizing the damane would be the only way to preserve the strength of the Empire.

I don't know though, maybe elevating them to da'covale and making all sul'dam so'jhin would be a softer landing for the transition. The problem for Fortuona is that it is common knowledge that she is a sul'dam. She can't make herself property, or allow this to destroy her Empire.

Whatever way it goes, there is actually some very rich fodder for stories in the Seanchan story arc, and in the likely confrontations with Shara in the 4th age.
ShawnPCooke
39. Eric3452
Didn't Rand sing The Song (just barely audibly) when he was with Tuon & Matt in the Tarasin Palace garden when he made the plants/trees come to life, become green and starting grow/flowering?
Birgit
40. birgit
Jay Fonseca (23 January 2013) So I always wondered... what ever happened to the Tinkers' song? Did I miss a resolution to that arc?
Brandon Sanderson (23 January 2013) By specific instruction from RJ, the Tinkers have not found their song as of the end of A Memory of Light.
Brandon Sanderson The song of growing is not their "Song." The Song is a much more deep and philosophical concept, perhaps unattainable.
TJ Do you imagine that Rand teaches "the song" to the Tu'athan after the events of A Memory of Light?
Brandon Sanderson Rand does not know The Song. Anything he'd try to teach them, they would not accept as The Song.
Aaron Oster Wait, are you saying Rand's song that Mat recognized wasn't the Tinkers' song?
Brandon Sanderson The Tinker "Song" is an ideal that goes far beyond any song that has actually ever existed.
DarlaSilvereye Walsh
41. jwinpa
Wow, so many great ideas, I loved reading them all. I will try throwing in my poor two cents.

The numbering of the ages is probably arbitrary, how does someone know that their age is actually the fourth age, or the first age?

What if the history that we now know (the past 5-7000 years or more), and the time from our present until the dawn of the use of the One Power which ushers in the Second age, is actually the equivilent of two full ages. And the pre-history stone age of the cave man (unknown thousands of years further back) is yet another age.

Assuming AMOL ends with the start of an age arbitrarily known as the fourth age, there seems to be three more ages after the fourth age until we get back to something we would recognize as our present age. The sixth age could be the equivelant of what we know as pre-history. The seventh age could be the period leading up to a growth from stone age to the beginnings of civilization such as the Hellienistic and Roman empires and cultures, leading into the first age such as the one we live in.

So, the fouth age could then be a great age of techincal advancement in science and the One Power. All the needs of society are meet by the advances in technology in both science and the One Power. The re-emergence of Talents such as Perrin's wolfbrother (and wolfsister) and Min's talent for seeing "Omens" will likely be additional benefits to society. This near perfect society with a lack of needs leads to stagnation, loss of drive, decline by decay in maintanance of society. Most of the One Power wonders are handled by the numerous ter'angreal that have been developed, so the need to use the One Power declines. Human society has no needs. With some machine or ter'angreal doing everything for all of society, everyone begins to forget how to use the technology, or how to use the One Power to make and maintain all the miracles of modern society. Does anyone remember the song "In the Year 2525" by Evans and Zager?

Great technology leaves everyone with nothing to do, the need for knowledge declines, people forget how to maintain their technologically perfect culture. The decay and decline lead to some catastrophy. Parts of society declines into a pre-technology state. This leads to a great separation in society, those who suffer deprevation in their loss of technology, and those who have been able to maintain some level of technology.

The fourth age ends with a rapid decline in technology, with resultant catastrophies. Possibly the fifth age begins with the loss of power generation rendering crucial technology useless. Damage or failure of some kind in crucial ter'angreal has other devisatating results. Possibly, a malfunction in a ter'angreal results in the entire world becoming a stedding. The population, likely many billion people built on the abundance produced through the advances of the fourth age, dies in great numbers through the growing series of world impacting technological catastrophies.

Of course, the increase in science and One Power technology, combined with the re-emerging talents could lead to numerous power struggles in society rather than a near perfect society, leading to great conflicts such as what we have experienced ouselves over the past century, but possibly with far more devistating results. This could also lead to a devistating end to the fourth age.

The fifth age is a downward spiral in humanity. Wars, starvation, natural disasters, and total loss in technology result in the near annialation of the human race. This returns humanity, the small remnant that survives in a few pockets around the world, in a pre-history state. This leaves humanity to start again ushering in a long, many thousand year period of an early stone age, the sixth age.

I don't know how Portal Stones or the Horn of Valere would fit in, but a nice unexplained mystery is always fun.
Craig Jarvis
42. hawkido
Okay,

My pure speculation in out line format:

4th age -
Begins with the dragons peace, Universities are founded. Seanchan adopt universities, and begin sceintific espionage, using Egwene's permit to allow Seachan emmisaries into all countries. The Black tower begins aggressively harvesting Male channelers out of Seanchan. The Black tower is more lax with recruiting amongst the Aiel and Sea Folk, only insisting that they allow any who wish to train, be allowed.

After 1000 year of development, and everyone forgets why there is a dragons peace, this escalates into a few skirmishes then goes into a cold war for 1000 years where Seanchan goes expanding in areas where there was no map for the dragon's peace to enforce (Their home continent and Shara) The Isle of Madmen is avoided as all who go there do not return.

Seanchan begins conquest in earnest of the rest of the world destroying the Dragon's peace Using Technology as they have winnowed the ability to channel out of their blood lines. The united forces of the Isle of Madmen strike out of nowhere after learning traveling from yet another attempt to scout the continent. The Isle was spared the last battle but had to suffer the maddness of the male channelers, it took 1000 years for all of the taint laden men to die and another 1000 years for both genders to come to an accord. The resulting battle becomes that ages finale. It takes 1000 years to for the seanchan to dominate all 4 continents.

Thus entering the 5th age. Technology has become the standard, with channeling being a nitch, that Seanchan (Raven Empire) populace is not eager nor interested in. The Males kill themselves to spare their families or are hunted down and their families are ruined. The Females are collared, and with no breeding program. It takes 1000 years for them to realize that channeling is diminishing and no one cares, as they are considered animals that noone wants any more. Pure technological with a few Channeling tidbits reign from that point on. At the end of the Age a Solar Flare wipes out Tech, and in comes the 6th age:

Filled with the war between the Ludites and the Technophiles, ends with a reduced population and the Ludites winning. The sixth age ends with a false religion rising, teaching of all the things found from the prior age. Ends in a massive book burning of all things from the past age and a ritualistic sacrifice of people, turning into something dark and hidden.

The Seventh age is ala Time Machine's Eloi and Morloks. Ends with even fewer people than the last age, and ends with the Eloi basically waking up to a new world with no tech, no history, and no knowledge; in a lush garden world that now needs to be tended to produce food. Adam and Eve style for the first age. The Aieloi?!? LOL.
ShawnPCooke
43. Ranger001
I hope that this hasn't been speculated yet as I didn't read trough all the theories but I would like to put forward one that focuses on the final and beginning age. Since the First Age is supposed to be the current age it is possible that the first age is billions of years long given what we know of natural history which should surely factor in. Yet this seems an inordinate amount of time for a single age. Instead I would like to postulate that the event that begins the First Age is the evolution/creation of Man. To me this seems to fit the whole each age is begun by a marked event, and as history is anthropocentric this seems a good place to start the cycle. What this means of course is that the Seventh Age is completely devoid of human life and is instead defined by the evolution of life as we know through natural history. One could even extrapolate this to say that the Sixth and Seventh Ages are human free and the Seventh Age is begun by the onset of life on Earth. Either way based on what we know of our own world and the Wheel, there needs to be a time with out humans. Thus I would speculate that either at the end of the Fifth or Sixth Age there is some cataclysmic event that effectively resets the Earth or even the Universe back to 0 on the geological clock. This would allow for the reemergence of humankind that does not know the power and therefore has to rediscover it very First Age.

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