Attack on Shoyul Ghoul
In the series’s fictional mythology, a deity known as the Creator forged the universe and the Wheel of Time, which, as it turns, spins all lives. The Wheel has seven spokes, each representing an age, and it rotates under the influence of the One Power, which flows from the True Source. Essentially composed of male and female halves (saidin and saidar) in opposition and in unison, this power turns the Wheel. Those humans who can use this power are referred to as channelers; the principal organization of such wielders in the books is called the Aes Sedai or ‘Servants of All’ in the Old Tongue.
The Creator imprisoned its antithesis, Shai’tan (or Dark One), at the moment of creation, sealing him away from the Wheel. However, in a time called the Age of Legends or the Second Age, an Aes Sedai experiment inadvertently breached the Dark One’s prison, allowing his influence into the world. He rallied the powerful, the corrupt and the ambitious to his cause and these servants began an effort to free the Dark One fully from his prison. In return, the Dark One promised them worldly power and immortality. Few even among the servants of the Dark One realized that one of the consequences of freeing him might be the breaking of the Wheel of Time and the end of existence itself.
In response to this threat, the Wheel spun out the Dragon as the champion of the Light. The Dragon was a male Aes Sedai named Lews Therin Telamon, who rose to great influence and power among the Aes Sedai. A century after the initial breach of the Dark One’s prison, a time during which the Dark One’s influence spread throughout the world, causing society to become corrupt and decayed, open warfare broke out between the forces of the Dark One and those of the Light. After ten years of a grueling, world-wide war filled with atrocities on a scale never before imagined, the Light found itself facing the real possibility of defeat.
In desperation, Lews Therin led a hand-picked force of channelers and soldiers in a high-risk, daring assault on the site of the earthly link to the Dark One’s prison, and was able to seal it off, although imperfectly. However, at this moment of victory the Dark One tainted saidin, driving male channelers of the One Power insane. The male channelers, in the “Time of Madness,” devastated the world with the One Power, unleashing earthquakes and tidal waves that reshaped the planet, referred to in subsequent ages as “The Breaking of the World.”
In his insanity, Lews Therin himself killed his friends, his family and anyone in any way related to him, and was known afterwards as Lews Therin Kinslayer. Given a moment of sanity by Ishamael, chief among the Dark One’s servants, Lews Therin realized what he had done. In his grief, he committed suicide by drawing on far more of the One Power than even he could handle unaided.
Over time, the remaining male Aes Sedai were killed or cut off from the One Power. In their wake, they had left a devastated world: the land and the oceans reshaped, people scattered from their native lands, civilization itself all but destroyed. Only women were now able to wield the One Power safely. The female Aes Sedai reconstituted and guided humanity out of this dark time. Men who could channel eventually became objects of fear and horror, as they would inevitably go insane unless stopped, and even the Dragon became a loathed figure. Among the Aes Sedai there were women whose sole function was to hunt such men down and cut them off from accessing the One Power.
What followed was three and a half thousand years of history that was marked by a series of rises then inevitable declines in civilization, a time of troubles and chaos that stood in marked contrast to the now mythical Age of Legends. Nations and civilization itself fell, rose, and fell again. Occasional periods of uneasy peace were punctuated by warfare. There were two major conflicts that were of particular importance, in terms of their effect on civilization as a whole. The first were the Trolloc Wars, in which servants of the Dark One tried to destroy civilization once more, in a more or less continuous war that lasted for several hundred years. This period finally came to an end thanks to an alliance of nations led by the Aes Sedai. The second was the War of the Hundred Years, a devastating civil war that followed the fall of a continent-spanning empire ruled by the High King, Artur Hawkwing.
These wars have prevented the human race from regaining the power and high technology of the Age of Legends, and left humanity divided. Even the prestige of the Aes Sedai has fallen, with their terrible power and shrinking numbers, and the emergence of organizations such as the Children of the Light, a militant order who hold that all who dabble with the One Power are servants of the Shadow. The human race has clawed its way back to a level of technology and culture roughly comparable to that of our 1450 to 1600 (although without the sciences, formalized learning, or the military use of gunpowder), with the difference that women enjoy full equality with men in most societies, and are superior in some. One likely explanation for this is the power and influence of the female-only Aes Sedai spilling over into everyday life.
During the last war of note, called the Aiel War and taking place 20 years before the start of the series, the nations of the modern era allied themselves against the warrior-clans of the Aiel, who crossed into the western kingdoms on a mission of vengeance after suffering a grievous insult at the hands of one of the western Kings. The Aiel have since returned to the Aiel Waste, with some saying that they were defeated and fled, but others saying that they got their vengeance and left on their own terms. Despite this confrontation, little is known of these fierce warriors in the kingdoms of the east.
In the time in which the novels are set, humanity lives under the shadow of a prophecy that the Dark One will break free from his prison and the Dragon will be reborn to face him once more, raining utter destruction and chaos on the world in the process of saving it from the Dark One.