Saturday, March 9, 2002

Real Life Influences

This section deals with the myths, legends and other cultures that Jordan used when inventing the world in which the series is set. There are many other cultural influences, too many too list here, but these are the ones that Jordan himself has confirmed. All these have been taken from various chat transcripts and accounts of book signings. It does help confirm a lot of speculation on the influences of various real life cultures on the Wheel of Time world.

NOTE: This section is not designed to analyse any of these similarities in detail; it simply records what Jordan has said on this matter.

Cultures and Societies

  • What was your inspiration for the Ogier?

    It's really impossible to say here. The Ogier came from a dozen different sources, at least.

  • He made the Aiel look Irish because he thought it was kind of funny. He doesn't like the fact that hardened desert warriors are always described as looking a certain way, so he used the opposite description.

  • I'd like to ask you something about the Aiel, well, who are they?

    You're welcome. And they are the descendants of the pacifists who were in service to the Aes Sedai in the Age of Legend. If on the other hand, you mean the source of the culture, in my mind, they contain some elements of the Apache, some of the Zulu, some of the Bedouin, and some elements of my own including that I rather liked the fact of making the desert dwellers blue-eyed and fair instead of the usual dark-eyed, dark-complexioned desert people.

  • There's been some question about how the Aiel sustain their vast numbers east and west of the Dragonwall. How can millions of Aiel live on grubs in the Waste and why don't they scavenge the land clean in Illian, Cairhien, and Caemlyn?

    They can live in the same ways that the Bedouin manage to live in a desert where you or I would die, and the Apache did so. They make very efficient use of what they find. And if they stay in one place for too long in too great a number they would indeed strip the land bare. But there certainly aren't millions of them in Illian.

  • What cultures and societies did you base Saldaea on? And is the sa'sara supposed to be a sort of belly-dance?

    Saldaea is based, in part, on a number of middle eastern cultures and several cultures in countries surrounding the Black Sea. In part. The sa'sara, now...

  • I've noticed a lot of the names in your books are based of historical cultures. Which culture do you think has influenced your books the most?

    I think it's a toss-up between the ancient Celts, the Japanese of the Shogunites, and France of the 17th Century. But then, there are a lot of bits and pieces that have come from a great many sources. I'm not truthfully certain that the three that I gave you really ARE the greatest influences.

  • Are you saying all the characters are based on various cultures around the world?

    Bits and pieces sometimes. Not the characters, but the nations are sometimes based on bits and pieces of actual cultures and quite often it has nothing to do with any culture that I am aware of consciously.

  • I've only had a quick look at the guide so far, but I couldn't find much additional information on Mayene. Perhaps you could tell us which, if any, cultures you have based it on and what the people are like, apart from that they don't exactly seem to suffer from excessive modesty.

    Well, Mayene is based culturally on the cities of the Hanseatic League, as well as Venice and Genoa when those cities were world commercial powers and city-states in themselves.

  • What was your basis when creating the Seanchan race and the structure of their society?

    Imperial China. Japan during the Shogunites, with strong dollops of the Persian Empire and the Ottoman.

  • Are there any characters in the books that are based on historical figures?

    No. The groups are sometimes in ways based on historical organizations. The White Cloaks have a lot of, say, Teutonic Knights. The Aes Sedai organization comes from the way convents were organized between A.D. 1000 and 1800, a time when there was real political power behind convents.

  • Myths, Legends and Other Influences

  • He talked for a while about 'reverse engineering' various myths, removing the culture-specific elements and combining the stories, giving the example of the Wolfbrother idea, which was derived partly from the Native American Coyote trickster/saviour figure, of whom both Mat and Perrin reflect aspects.

  • Are your books based on any biblical themes/characters?

    Not directly. Influenced by. And not wholly -- there are other influences as well.
    There is a big influence (already mentioned) from wide ranging source materials.

  • Did you get any inspiration from Arthurian Legend?

    Quite a bit, along with other Celtic myths and Norse myths and African and Middle- Eastern, and Hindu and Chinese and Japanese and Native American and even Australian Aboriginal. Plus some others here and there to tell you the truth.

  • Are your Arthurian legend parallels intended or were they written in and only realized afterwards

    They were intended.

  • This is a great deal of fun, tracking down all of the various sources whilst reading. Is there a reason that the Arthur and other Avalon legends are referred to so much?

    They really aren't referred to any more than many other legends and myths, but they're simply more recognizable to most Americans.

  • Just out of curiosity, do your predictions (Foretellings and Min's Viewings ) have a well, Delphic quality by accident, or by choice ?

    There's very little in the books that's by accident--very little.

  • The Universe of The Wheel of Time

  • He also spoke for quite some time on the splitting of the One Power into male and female halves, and on the disharmony produced when they don't work together. This came across as one of the core elements in the origin of WoT. (Yin/Yang - leaving out the little dots in the symbol is an intentional representation of the lack of harmony between male/female Power in Randland)

  • How did you develop the idea for the Wheel of Time saga, and where did you get the name?

    The name comes out of Hindu mythology, where there is a belief that time is a wheel. Many older cultures believe that time is cyclic, that it repeats. In fact, I believe the best thing the ancient Greeks gave us was (the idea) that time was linear and change was possible.

  • Did the Book of Revelation influence you? Your works seem to have many scriptural allusions.

    There are a number of influences from the Bible, but from other sources as well. My work is not overtly religious in any way.

  • The Old Tongue

  • I was wondering where you came up with the "old language" and the Aiel language? Are there preset rules to them and it is a functioning language? Or do you just have a set of words that you devised and insert when needed?

    It's a functioning language in that I have developed a basic grammar and syntax, and have a vocabulary list that I have devised, some from Gaelic of course, but from languages less often used.. Russian, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese. I try to follow these rules that I've set up, but occasionally I realize I have to invent a new rule because I'm doing something I've never done before. But it all follows the grammar I've devised. As far as the Aiel that I've devised as a culture, they have bits of Apache, bits of Bedouin, bits that are simply mine.

  • Do you have a Languages education? Where did you get the idea for the Old Tongue?

    Well, I got the idea for the Old Tongue simply because the core beginnings of this story lie 3000 years in the past -- and I've never heard of a language remaining unchanged over that length of time. We could not understand the English spoken by an Englishman from 1000 years ago, and we'd have difficulty understanding him from 500 years ago, and the same holds true for a Frenchman with his language or a German with his.

  • How did you develop the language in The Wheel of Time ?

    The words come partly from Gaelic, Russian, Arabic, Chinese, and Japanese. The grammar and syntax I believe I invented myself, although it's possible that another language uses the same. Of course, just as with English, I have deliberately put in some very illogical inconsistencies.

  • Is there a complete language of the Old Tongue, and if so, how long did it take you to develop it?

    There are some 880 basic words -- maybe 900. I got a list of what is considered basic English, which are the 800 odd words of a basic English vocabulary, removed the words that were of no use in the context of my world, came up with words in the Old Tongue in each of those English words, and then added those words that did have a specific context in my world.

  • Characters

  • People have speculated that Odin was the outline for Mat’s character. I see Chukullen. Could you elaborate?

    There are a number of characters reflected, mythological characters, reflected in each of the books because of the basic theme, if you will, of the books, that information becomes distorted over distance or time you cannot know the truth of an event the further you get from it. These people are supposed to be the source of a great many of our legends or myths, but what they actually did bears little resemblance to the myth. That is the conceit, that time has shifted these actions to other people, perhaps compressing two people into one or dividing one into three as far as their actions go so Rand has bits of Arthur and bits of Thor and bits of other characters and so does Matt and so does Nynaeve, and so do others. And yes Matt does have some bits of Odin, but not exclusively. He has bits of Loki and bits of Coyote and of the Monkey King.

  • Mr. Jordan, my favourite character is Mat and I was wondering do you find it ironic that a Hero of the Wheel, who does not know that he is a Hero of the Wheel, blew the Horn of Valere? Also, were did you get the idea for Mat?

    Oh, Mat is a lot of guys. Mat is Coyote and Trickster and a lot of other characters out of myth and legend. He's the reluctant hero; he's a lot of things. He's the bad boy on the Harley. He's a lot of legends.

  • Did you get inspiration for Be'lal's name from Paradise Lost? (ie, the fallen angel Belial)

    Among other places, yes.

  • What inspired the Forsaken?

    A great many things -- but in large part, people who are willing to do anything at all for their personal aggrandizement.

  • Is their any particular inspiration for the Forsaken, and the other antagonists in your series, as their are for the women characters. Demandred and how he was always an inch behind Lews Therin (in the power, in swordsmanship etc...), for example, was their a particular inspiration for that?

    Well, there are, and I won't go into details because I want to keep the mythological and legendary roots hidden. I don't want to have people spending more time discussing the legends than the stories! The thing is there are several legends and myths based on such jealousy, on the man who is just a half a step short of another man, the woman who would have been the greatest of her age, but there was another who was just a bit better. That sort of jealousy leads to the worst kind of hatred. When someone can easily defeat you, there's not that kind of jealousy, but when he beats you in a photo finish every single time, that is when emotions begin to curdle and rancour sets in and you find yourself with this festering deep inside that can turn into murderous hatred.

  • How much of Jesus Christ is there in Rand? We have the wounded palms, side wound, crown of swords...How representational of Jesus Christ is Rand?

    Rand has some elements of Jesus Christ, yes. But he is intended more to be a general "messiah figure." An archetype such as Arthur, rather than a manifestation of Jesus Christ in any way.

  • From what sources did you develop the concept of Wolf Brothers and the "powers" Perrin has developed in the series?

    Any number of myths from Europe, North American Indians, and the Australian aborigines.

  • Background Detail

  • The initiation rituals for raising an Accepted to Aes Sedai seem to be based upon some sort of real-life ceremonies. Where did you get the idea for the three passes through the ter'angreal?

    Trinities and threes and multiples of three or seven turn up again and again in mythologies and legends throughout the world and in ceremonies throughout the world. That part is hardly original. It's something that speaks to us on some deeper level. It's so prevalent, it must. It's all pervasive.

  • Is there an actual form of martial arts that inspired the "sword forms" and are the forms you mention in the books part of this art or are they you own creation.

    The sword forms described in the book are my own creation, but they are based in part on the Japanese art of the sword, and also on fencing as it developed, when it was well on its way to becoming a martial art as we define them today (when it was developing in the Renaissance).

  • Is the game of stones based on GO, the Asian game of skill? It is more complex than chess... so it is appropriate if so. And what stones are used (type of stone)?

    Stones is based on Go, and the actual stones used can vary.

  • Where do you come up with all the names for the cities? Do you just pick them out of your head?

    Ahh, yeah. I admit to making lists. I read fairly widely and I read newspapers, foreign newspapers. That is, foreign to me, to the States. Also, the Economist and other magazines that have stories about other countries’ news stories. I'll see a name that isn't the name that I want but I realize if I twist it and turn it inside out and tie it into a knot, it's a name that sounds very nice. It's the name I want. The same way names out of myth and legend that in some cases are twisted or turned or changed and others aren't. I figured most of you are far enough along that you read, that you know Rand al'Thor, al'Thor, yes he is an Arthur analogue. He is also a Thor analogue. Some of you might not have picked that one up yet. And Artur Hawkwing is also an Arthur analogue. Because what I've tried to do is not give you any sort of retelling of myths or legends but to reverse engineer every one of them so that I can give you some version of what might have happened and then have been changed by telling and retelling and retelling and retelling into the myths and legends we have today.
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