Let’s Go to the Last Unexplored Place in The Wheel of Time: The Land of Madmen!

For Wheel of Time readers, the last great unexplored frontier is a lonely continent nestled deep down in the world’s southern hemisphere, colloquially known as the Land of Madmen. The only ships ever to visit there have been the few Sea Folk vessels not dashed upon the iceberg floes that drift north from the continent; and all they found was a hostile populace overwhelmed by male channelers gone crazy from the Dark One’s touch upon saidin.

Subsequently, we don’t know much about the continent or what life is like there. But we can apply some lessons learned from the history of the Wheel of Time, as well as historical history on Earth, to shed a little light on this mysterious place. Some big surprises await us!

(Note: This article assumes that you have read Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.)

Although our journey will ultimately take us away from this question, it’s helpful to approach the Land of Madmen in regards to whether the Westlands and Seanchan armies could colonize it. We know that Sea Folk traders have been rebuffed, but we also know that even after the Last Battle, the Seanchan have access to the most massive naval force on the planet. We also know that the Westlands channelers contain forces practiced at fighting with gateways, as well as Dreamers who could safely scout the Land of Madmen without having to dodge channelers or a hostile landscape.

If combined, it seems that this kind of vanguard could easily establish a settlement on the Land of Madmen. But would this be the case? Or would such a force be thrown back by a massive wave of insane male channelers oozing destruction?

 

What They Can and Can’t Do

We have little information as to the capabilities of the “Madmen,” or the female channelers on that continent who presumably hunt and/or avoid them. We know the schools of thought governing the usage of the One Power in the Westlands and Seanchan, as well as the recent independent innovations—gateways, Dreaming, The Flame of Tar Valon, advances in healing—that both schools of thought have been forced to integrate. But we don’t know how channelers on the Land of Madmen learn how and what to channel.

Our closest analogues in the series come in the form of the Two Rivers’ wellspring of natural channelers, as well as the Seanchan’s combat-centric form of “teaching.” As we know from both Moiraine and Verin’s visits to the Two Rivers, this sheltered community produced channelers in an amount that surprised both Aes Sedai. These potentials included women who could learn how to channel, as well as “wilder” women who would channel regardless of whether they received instruction. And as we’ve learned recently from the Mazrim Taim entry in The Wheel of Time Companion, Taim plundered lesser amounts of male channelers from the same region. The Two Rivers is therefore the closest example we have of an “untended” community that produces male channelers.

Of these channelers, the “wilders” are the most important, and our two most notable examples of Two Rivers wilders are Rand and Nynaeve. Notably, both of them develop techniques that allowed them to control their powers and harness them for use in their day-to-day environments. Rand was taught by his father Tam to take on a calm mental state known as “The Void” when hunting or crafting, a technique that unknowingly allowed Rand to utilize the sensory enhancements that are coupled with the use of the One Power. Because of this rudimentary control, Rand does not suffer the unbridled effects of saidin or the Taint, as he is very lightly using it over a long period of time.

Similarly, Nynaeve develops a “block,” a commonly known method that users of saidar create in order to stem the flow of the Power to a manageable trickle. Nynaeve must become angry to actively use the One Power in her duties as the village Wisdom (or “healer”), although simply saying that anger is Nynaeve’s block can be deceptive, as she only seems to be able to use the One Power when she has become angry over the absence of a need, and not when she is intent on hurting someone. Her block isn’t simply anger, but rational anger, usually triggered in response to the environment around her.

Both Rand and Nynaeve utilize their methods of control for tasks in their daily lives: hunting or tending to the farm; healing or working in the community. As such, when Moiraine finds them in The Eye of the World, their proficiency with the One Power has been determined by repeated usage in response to their environment. Rand is an excellent bowman and good with horses, while Nynaeve is a supernaturally gifted healer. Both of them can use the Power instinctively when faced with those tasks, but would require teaching to be able to handle specific weaves of the Power: such as creating an illusion, levitating a rock, or setting a warning bell for Shadowspawn.

Channelers in the Land of Madmen would develop in a similarly untended environment. While it is possible that detailed tutelage of the One Power was present shortly after The Breaking of the World; 3000+ years of upheaval has most likely eliminated that knowledge from the culture (or cultures) that exist on that continent during the Wheel of Time series. If we assume that communities on the Land of Madmen are small, never achieving anything bigger than a large village, then channelers arising out of these communities would adapt in the same learning environment that Rand and Nynaeve did. Wilders would arise and either fall sick and die, or develop blocks that allowed them to use the One Power for specific tasks in their environment.

As we can assume from the name of the continent itself, the environment of the Land of Madmen is most likely not the same idyllic woodland village as the Two Rivers, but something more threadbare and survivalist, akin to the roving culture of the Aiel. From what little we know: insane male channelers generate earthquakes and volcanoes, while similarly mad female channelers attempt to hunt them down. The ensuing struggles constantly change the landscape. This ongoing context lays out an iron rule for any community on this continent, large or small: keep moving, or die.

Communities in the Land of Madmen are most likely hunter-gatherer rather than agricultural as a result, another similarity to the Aiel. Skills focused on survival—what will you eat today? can you walk with the tribe on that broken foot?, is that lightning on the horizon a storm or a male channeler?—naturally take priority over maintenance, community, and agriculture. In some cases, these skills aren’t all that different from those learned by channelers in the Westlands—healing is necessary everywhere. But in the case of life in the Land of Madmen, the natural One Power skills of a wilder would most likely focus on finding food and water, defending against channeling, and destroying other channelers.

Developing a natural affinity for becoming a magical warrior seems outlandish (at least compared with a natural affinity to heal or find sustenance), but as we’ve seen from the Seanchan’s use of damane, learning how to destroy with the One Power is probably one of the easiest things for a wilder to learn. Enormous cultural stigma amongst the Seanchan prevents the sul’dam from teaching with weaves, or acknowledging the usefulness or presence of the One Power. Therefore, their teaching regiment is indelicate and militaristic in nature: The damane are soldiers and they must drill in known destructive uses of the Power. The repetition of the drills takes time, but the initial learning of basic destructive Power uses is probably quite rapid.

So as we’ve seen, wilders on the Land of Madmen would develop proficiency in the One Power in relation to their environment, and since their environment requires defending and attacking with the Power they would develop an instinctual ability to do so, especially since destroying something with the One Power is relatively easy. In fact, considering that the continent is known for its shifting landscape, it may be that most wilders in the Land of Madmen develop blocks that require them to be in danger from another channeler before they can even access the Power, leading to a downward spiral where the One Power is only ever used to destroy.

 

Systems of Control

Cultures all around the world of the Wheel of Time have specific ways in which they deal with male channelers. The Seanchan are merciless and destroy them. Sharans raise them in isolation, use them as breeding stock, then kill them before they can manifest the Power. Aes Sedai search for and “gentle” access to the One Power out of men, leaving them alive but suicidal. The Aiel are perhaps the most respectful towards male channelers: Allowing them to leave the Three-Fold Land to spend their days hunting Shadowspawn in the Blight. All of these methods institute a system of control over male channelers.

There is most likely no such widespread system of control in effect in the Land of Madmen, aside from the Taint itself, and it is most likely the continued attempt to institute a system of control that exacerbates the ongoing conflict between male and female channelers on this continent.

We know how this progression began: The Dark One’s counterstroke during the sealing of the Bore introduced the Taint to saidin, but its effects remained unknown until male channelers started going mad and wreaking havoc upon the land, eventually Breaking the world into the form we’re familiar with in the book series. Direct combat between male and female channelers would have occurred on all continents in the newly reformed world, with female channelers eventually triumphing. The widespread nature of these triumphs can probably be attributed to sufficient balance between these three qualities:

  • Survival of governing bodies and communication networks
  • Availability of basic needs (food, water, shelter)
  • Natural attrition of male channelers caused by the Taint

The Taint naturally eliminates male channelers from the world by drastically shortening their lifespan or making them so unstable that they destroy themselves. Female channelers don’t need to hunt down male channelers so much as they need to defend and preserve the environment from their havoc. Direct combat would occur where these needs intersect, but over a relatively short period of time—only ten years after the sealing of the Bore—the majority of male channelers would have self-destructed.

Where the Land of Madmen possibly differed from the rest of the world is in the balance of basic needs. We see in The Shadow Rising that while scarcity of food, water, and shelter reigned in the proto-Westlands during the Breaking, these resources could still be located or produced by a significant portion of the population. The Land of Madmen may have experienced only the extremes regarding availability of basic needs; feast or famine. The possibility that immediately comes to mind is that their basic needs were completely destroyed, leaving only channelers with the ability to produce (via flows of water or by dowsing) or import (via gateways) limited amounts of these resources. However, the more likely scenario is that the Land of Madmen was able to stabilize their society more rapidly during the Breaking than the rest of the world.

A scarcity of essential needs coupled with the attrition of the Taint led to a highly destructive extinction burst of male channelers, kicked off by a general unawareness of the effects of the Dark One’s counterstroke. Due to the specific effects of the Taint, though, reacting to it too early could be just as destructive as reacting to it too late. If the society located in the proto-Land of Madmen discovered the Taint’s effects early they would have had a few years to test and institute a system of care that would have most likely extended the lifespan of male channelers beyond the extinction burst of the Breaking. Ironically, instituting treatment—i.e. a system of control—this early would have created a sustained period of destruction. As we’ve seen throughout the series, male channelers can hold off on channeling in order to extend their lifespan, but they inevitably succumb to the Taint. Channeling is a need akin to sex in this regard. You can choose abstinence, but the urge to have sex and reproduce is instinctual, and it is a rare individual who can go without engaging in sex or self-pleasure for their entire life. Male channelers would still go mad while undergoing treatment, they would just do it over the span of a century or more as opposed to just one decade.

There’s another reason for considering the proto-Land of Madmen as a (relative) paradise in the post-Breaking world. Namely, if it was a harsh land cut off from the rest of the world, then why wouldn’t female and male channelers simply leave via gateway? For the Land of Madmen to have a population of channelers well into the Third Age, it had to be an initially appealing place to live. If it was known as a relatively stable place to receive treatment for the Taint post-Breaking, then it would have attracted male channelers en masse, further improving the recovery of the new Westlands, Seanchan, and Sharan continents.

Far from being a constant source of chaos, it instead seems more likely that the Land of Madmen was instead the first to institute a system of control over Tainted male channelers and that, ironically, this attracted and nurtured male channelers and their madness. At the time the Taint was new and the Age of Legends recent. It’s likely that no one could conceive that the Taint would take more than 3000 years to cure! The cure must have seemed constantly around the corner, only one breakthrough away from being real.

This gives an additional sardonic twist to the name “Land of Madmen,” as well. The continent probably became a makeshift sanitarium for male channelers after the Breaking, and it’s not hard to imagine that stigma generating a nickname like “Land of Madmen” amongst the non-channeling populace.

 

Is There Anyone There Now?

We’ve been able to dig deep into the theoretical lives and origins of the Land of Madmen, but let’s circle back to our original intent: colonizing the continent in the Fourth Age.

So far, we know that combat-intensive and xenophobic channelers exist on the continent since the Sea Folk have been rebuffed on sight. We also have continuing physical signs of the presence of One Power-heavy battles by observing icebergs that are cut loose from the continent’s southern reaches by earthquakes.

This instability coupled with the shoot-first-ask-questions-later style of xenophobia displayed by channelers on this continent suggests that there are most likely numerous types of cultures and tribes on this continent, ranging from basic hunter-gatherers to Bronze Age settlements. There is no longer a widespread system of control, rather, there are most likely a number of different systems of control in place, all of them dependent on the culture that they spring from. Perhaps one tribe maintains a female-only populace and hunts men whether or not they can channel. Other channeling tribes would naturally form to oppose them, including tribes that utilize male channelers. Perhaps there is an isolated mountain community where male channelers are encouraged to devote themselves to research and meditation in exchange for compassionate euthanasia. Perhaps there is a Bronze Age-type settlement where the ruling dynasty very proudly breeds with male channelers in order to produce a “strong” lineage of magic-users. Such a mix of cultures, combined with the havoc caused by insane male channelers, would foster an environment where any first contact with another tribe or community would be first regarded as a threat.

So there are people on the Land of the Madmen, and they are paranoid and powerful, but how many of them can there be?

Although the Land of Madmen resembles the shape and location of the present-day continent of Australia (Remember: The Wheel of Time takes place on Earth.), it’s actually much larger than Australia. Using the same measurements and globe from this study of Seanchan and the world beyond it, we can see that the Land of Madmen actually extends between the latitude of 27 S and 62 S. This is nearly as long as the continent of North America! Driving from south to north on the Land of Madmen would be the same as driving from Northern Mexico to Northern Alaska.

The Land of Madmen is actually thinner than North America, though, and ultimately clocks in at 2/3rds the size. (Roughly twice the size of Australia.) Nevertheless, this is a tremendous amount of land and, just like North America, it can host a variety of different ecosystems, almost all of them temperate, supporting of flora and fauna, and capable of food production. As a result, there are probably quite a lot of people living on the continent.

This is regardless of earthquakes, volcanoes, forest fires, and other natural disasters being generated by Tainted male channelers, too. These phenomenon can cause a large amount of damage and would limit the growth of village into cities, and poison water tables, but the smaller the community the more quickly they would be able to recover their area. Earthquakes wouldn’t damage a season’s worth of crops as much as they would damage the buildings last season’s crops are stored within. Volcanoes can be massively destructive, but only if they’ve had millions of years of rock plugging them up. They otherwise tend to be gradual and predictable (just ask Mauna Loa, the planet’s biggest volcano). Forest fires and tornadoes can devastate regions, but are unpredictable in their devastation and require a lot of energy and fuel to sustain, so a Tainted channeler isn’t likely to be able to sustain either for very long before becoming exhausted or killing himself.

Current estimates for the indigenous population of North America, pre-colonization, put the number at 50 to 100 million. Let’s go with the lower estimate—there are madmen running around, after all—and split that number into two-thirds. The population estimate for the Land of Madmen now stands at 35 million.

That’s a lot, and it gets crazier.

In the Age of Legends channelers consisted of 2% to 3% of the world’s population. That ability has been slowly bred out of the populations of the Seanchan and Westlands, to the point where only 1% of their population can channel. Since there are no consistent systems of control in the Land of Madmen, the channeling population is probably still at 2%. However, the only channelers who access the Power are probably wilders, since their ability will manifest whether they want it to or not, so let’s compensate and say that the active channeling population of the Land of Madmen is down to 1%, as well.

That means there are 350,000 channelers living on the Land of Madmen! 350,000 suspicious, destructive channelers… How many Seanchan and Westlands channelers fought in the Last Battle? Maybe 3,000?

Colonization of the Land of Madmen doesn’t seem like a successful proposition. Especially with the world still picking up the pieces from the Last Battle.

It may not ultimately matter, though.

 

Madmen and the Fourth Age

The Dragon brought change, even to the Land of Madmen. Although the channeler communities on that continent are fractured and violent, the cleansing of the Taint will fundamentally change these societies over the course of the first few centuries of the Fourth Age, allowing them to progress and grow without the need for constant vigilance against male channelers.

This progress will be slow, and in comparison with the growth of the rest of the world, any eventual nation or nations that form in the Land of Madmen may experience culture shock when they make contact with the rest of the world. Although Aviendha’s future has been avoided, it’s still likely that trains and electricity are due in the Westlands in a few centuries. What happens when an Iron Age culture suddenly encounters the Industrial Revolution?

Something interesting, undoubtedly. The Wheel, as ever, turns…

 

Watch for more Wheel of Time Companion and Spin the Wheel coverage through this tag.
Map art by Ellisa Mitchell, originally published in The World of the Wheel of Time.

Chris Lough is curious to know what would happen when the Land of Madmen meets the World of Poker. He writes a lot on Tor.com and is baffling on Twitter.

18 Comments

Subscribe to this thread

Post a Comment

All comments must meet the community standards outlined in Tor.com's Moderation Policy or be subject to moderation. Thank you for keeping the discussion, and our community, civil and respectful.

Hate the CAPTCHA? Tor.com members can edit comments, skip the preview, and never have to prove they're not robots. Join now!