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(Super-spoilers ahead, kind of.)

...

As the breaking of the world begins, civilization - and the Aes Sedai especially - have a very good grip on what's going on. They might not be aware of the identities of all darkfriends, but they know many/most of the Forsaken and the dreadlords, certainly the the ones who declared for the Dark One or were banished for dark-friendly activity; they probably know about Ishar Morrad Chuain's breeding of the Shadowspawn (and certainly know about the experimentation and breeding program generally, since it involves tens of millions of people); and of course they know all of their own strengths - weaves of the power, talents, power-assisted technology, catalogue of angreal, terangreal and sa-angreal; metaphysics of the bore (as far as they've studied it anyway); etc. etc.

Somehow, they lose all of this information. Now, one could "blame it on the darkfriends" for expunging some records from the Aes Sedai records (at the Hall of Servants, and later, the White Tower library). But even assuming they were able to do that much damage, over time, to the records at White Tower - that still doesn't explain much. Everyone who's ever kept records in an organization or has worked in a library knows that management of copies and replication vis-a-vis other libraries is important. And of course, they had printing presses at the time of the breaking, and schools and universities, and there were other libraries around the continent and the world.

Now, if the Aes Sedai, and the human communities surviving the breaking, had bothered to keep records and make copies of them (rather than a sensitive single-record-set, when they know they're riddled by enemy agents) - would they not have had a pretty easy time keeping the Shadow at bay? Or doing even better than that?

I was motivated to ask this by the scene in the TV series, S01E08, where Althor and Damodred are being a bunch of happy-go-lucky idiots who have no idea about anything, and would well deserve just being killed off on the spot by somebody far weaker than Tedronai. I realize the show's story is not the same as the books, but still.

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  • 1
    I would have dismissed this question, since so much time has passed, but we do have a number of relatively well-preserved texts (sometimes even physically!) from that long ago or nearly so, typically those that were viewed as important; presumably, texts about the nature of the Shadow would fall into that category.
    – Adamant
    Commented Dec 26, 2021 at 17:19
  • 6
    "Hey, remember that archive we set up in that major city? Bob Sedai just turned it [the major city, not just the archive] to glass." It was the Breaking of the World, not the Gradual Reorganization of the World.
    – chepner
    Commented Dec 28, 2021 at 13:13
  • 2
    It was a century of insane male Aes Sedai continuing the destruction; that doesn't mean it took 100 years to break everything. The 100 companions were the 100 most powerful male channelers. It's not hard to imagine that they were able to reduce civilization to nothing pretty quickly, and that the next 100 years saw the remaining channelers destroying the rubble, over and over, until they had mostly died out.
    – chepner
    Commented Dec 28, 2021 at 18:45
  • 1
    @chepner: Except they didn't reduce civilization to nothing pretty quickly. Evidence (albeit, granted, limited) of this is the angreal salvage project (including stasis boxes), the construction of the Eye of the World, the stedding refugee project, and the construction of the ways. Also, in the WoT wiki, it says (without references) that printing-presses remained operational during the initial time of chaos. Surely among the things getting printed would be records of what's going on now and copies of key archives.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Dec 28, 2021 at 20:07
  • 2
    Wheel of Time, premieres this fall, on Amazon Prime. Sponsored by Backblaze. Commented Jan 15, 2022 at 11:22

3 Answers 3

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Main problem of the forces/defenders of the Light actually boils down to Dunning–Kruger effect which was endemic in the most powerful long-lived political organization of the 3rd Age: The Aes Sedai.

You can't read the books without coming across an example every 100 pages or so of one of them making stupid unsupported statements while utterly believing in their own genius; and then going on to do foolish counterproductive actions, apparently without being aware of the failure of similar foolish counterproductive actions they've done in the past. All the while attempting to gain control of Al'Thor because obviously they were the ones to do it because of their great successes running everything else.

  • Special shout-out here for Egwene al'Vere, as Aes Sedai Amyrlin Seat - all of what ... 21 years old? Amyrlin Seat for two or three months? - and her treatment of Al'Thor.

And I'm not just talking about the Greys, either. Consider the Whites - by the Light! - aren't they utterly useless?! The Greens, the self-described "Battle Ajah" - hah!, how competent were they when the Seanchan attacked the White Tower. Spent the entire episode setting up an HQ so they could command ... what? who?? when?? Oh don't get me started...

  • The only effective group of Aes Sedai were the Black, and they were effective only because they took orders - under pain of painful pain! - from a Forsaken who knew what she was doing.
4
  • Little known fact - the White Ajah is now running Russia's Special Operation.
    – WOPR
    Commented Oct 7, 2022 at 2:28
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    This info doesn't warrant its own answer so I'm leaving it as a comment here since this is the closest: the Aes Sedai have the largest and most complete library (which is still woefully incomplete) but most AS hardly study any of it. The brown ajah who do are introverted and don't seem to share anything they learn very widely, or even to put the knowledge to use themselves (excepting Verin, of course). So even the records they do have are underutilized, even within the Tower. Commented Jan 4, 2023 at 15:41
  • @FredricShope: It would be even more ridiculous if the AS have most of the operational intelligence they need in their library, and are simply not taught it and don't bother to look into it :-(
    – einpoklum
    Commented Feb 7, 2023 at 19:49
  • @einpoklum I got the distinct impression that was the case. I get that they're busy furthering the goals of their ajah, but they had huge blind spots because they were only taught by tradition and the elders and Sitters wanted to keep so much secret. Look at the revelations when channeling groups get together (the Kin, Windfinders, Aes Sedai, Wise Ones, et al). Commented Feb 7, 2023 at 20:22
5

Don't the Light's problems in the current age of WoT just boil down to poor record-keeping?

Yes. Their loss of knowledge was caused by several different things:

  • The Breaking of the World was an apocalypse. As soon as Lews Therin's Hundred Companions had sealed the Dark One, the taint on saidin appeared. A large portion of the Hundred Companions went instantly mad as this happened1). They literally started to destroy the world, even reshaping the geography. Eventually over time, all male Aes Sedai would go mad.
  • Since more than half of all Aes Sedai were effectively lost because of this, a lot of knowledge was already lost there. And the most powerful feats of the Age of Legends included using both saidar and saidin together. Many female Aes Sedai would also die trying to fight or cure the male ones.
  • The female Aes Sedai did try to preserve a lot of knowledge and artefacts the best they could during these chaotic times. The collections of items that ended up in Rhuidean is such an attempt and how it got there is addressed explicitly in the books. The chapters where Rand sees into the ter'angreal in Rhuidean is what offers the reader the most knowledge over how the Breaking and everything that followed went. I won't quote anything here as it contains lots of spoilers.
  • Time. Many thousands of years have passed.

they know many/most of the Forsaken and the dreadlords, certainly the the ones who declared for the Dark One or were banished for dark-friendly activity; they probably know about Ishar Morrad Chuain's breeding of the Shadowspawn

The names of all Forsaken and the breeding of shadowspawn was not lost knowledge. They were too well-known. Even commoners living in the third age know their names and use them as monsters from fairy tales etc.

Somehow, they lose all of this information. Now, one could "blame it on the darkfriends" for expunging some records from the White Tower library.

The White Tower didn't exist during the Age of Legends but was built by surviving female Aes Sedai (or rather by ogier in their employ).


1) Source: https://wot.fandom.com/wiki/Breaking_of_the_World

They succeeded, but in the last moment the Dark One managed to taint saidin and sixty-eight companions along with Lews Therin went instantly mad.

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  • The breaking of the world is more of an excuse than a reason: 1. There was a century of de-stabilization before it after the bore was made, and 10 years of war which threatened civilization right before it. Plenty of motivation and time to prepare. 2. The vast majority of male Aes Sedai did not go mad immediately; and they undertook multiple collective endeavors (The Eye of the World and the Ways are examples we know of). 3. Many of the male Aes Sedai took refuge in steddings. While they would eventually leave - they had plenty of time there to put many collective affairs in order.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Jan 6, 2022 at 10:21
  • Also, see edit regarding the White Tower. In the books there seems to be talk of how information which had been kept there gradually got expunged, and that was my "straw man" argument here.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Jan 6, 2022 at 10:23
  • "Names of the forsaken ... hey were too well-known" <- I meant operational intelligence for the Aes Sedai. Real names, personal background, appearance, talents, strengths with different aspects of the One Power, military experience during the war etc.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Jan 6, 2022 at 10:24
  • @einpoklum I added a source also claiming that two thirds went instantly mad. I don't remember where exactly this was stated in the books unfortunately.
    – Amarth
    Commented Jan 6, 2022 at 12:17
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    I'd like to reemphasize this: "The Breaking of the World was an apocalypse." We see the people who go on to found Cairhien in a flashback, and it's just a bunch of starving people who have managed to dig some wells. The Breaking lasted hundreds of years and reduced a space age civilization back down to the iron age. They don't even know how long the Breaking lasted, because civilization broke down so much that they lost their calendar system. It's hard to understate the damage caused by the Breaking.
    – samuei
    Commented Oct 12, 2022 at 13:39
1

The fact is they did leave information. The names of each of the Forsaken was known to the wider populace, the name Lewis Therin was well known to the wider populace. The story of the Dragon and the breaking of the world and the magic of the ages. Even tales from the first age are known, stories of flights to the moon, war between the USSR and Nato etc these tales are all told as fables and stories.

Now why didn't they leave a detailed how to manual for the destruction of each of the forsaken, sealing of the bore and the weakness and abilities of the minions of the Dark lord? Instruction on weaves, technology and a manual for the use of all those tools.

The fact is they might have done.

the remaining female Aes Sedai in Paaran Disen bound the Da'shain Aiel to an oath to protect an’greal, sa'angreal, and ter'angreal and other objects from the madness of the male Aes Sedai. The Da'shain Aiel are commanded to "keep moving, always moving until they find a place of safety", where none can harm them.

That collection may well have contained artefacts loaded with knowledge, the ages version of a USB stick, or a Hard drive with an idiots guide to destroying the dark lord. It certainly contained weapons but it also contained other items that have long lost all knowledge of use.

And that is the biggest issue. You ask why is there not a repository, that single collection was travelling for generations. the group carrying it split into 3 groups, 2 of which became the Aiel as we know them in the books and then Tinkers, long forgetting their own history.

Imagine the destruction of the world, Robert Jordan wrote that the war of shadow destroyed all industrialisation across the entire world and killed millions. Imagine that in our own world, every industrial centre wiped out and the population reduced to trying to survive.

Then add in the Breaking, 100 years of all male channellers in existence destroying the world. This is not nuclear Armageddon, it is much much worse. Balefire changing time, entire cities eradicated in a few minutes. The actions of individuals undone. Again Robert Jordan explains that entire continents where destroyed and new landmasses raised. Picture the scenes of the movie 2020. And I will say again Balefire, a weave that literally burns away the impact someone or something has had on the pattern. We know in the breaking at least 1 city is fully burnt away with Balefire, that power of balefire would potentially undo anything done in that city maybe years prior (the details of how balefire works are wooly at best).

Now this breaking was not planned for, not forseen, it happened suddenly and caught the female Aes Sedai by surprise. The moment the breaking happened any sa'angreal, and ter'angreal that required the male half became useless and possibly dangerous to use. So if that USB stick was created by a male channeller it was lost.

Now let's picture the scene post this. You ask why where there are not manuals, records, writings, where would they have been kept safe? Paper would have been destroyed, lost, or over time those keeping it would have lost sense of the context.

When the White Tower is founded it is created by female channellers who claim to be Aes Sedai and, some knowledge is known, female channellers did not learn from scratch, they had weaves and an understanding of saidin and sadir, they had an understanding of what had happened in the war of shadow and the breaking. But, that knowledge has, over 3500 years, been slowly lost and forgotten largely because Humanity as a whole had more important things to worry about. Survival, losing a huge % of the population (Robert Jordan said humanity almost became extinct), trying to make the wasteland that remained of the world habitable while fighting the remains of the dark lords armies.

You also then had the civil wars, the re establishment of civilisation, in the words of Galadrial History became legend. Legend became myth and much that should not have been forgotten was lost.

There is a moment in the book where one of the Forsaken is in the White Tower, in one of the rooms where Ter'angreal who's purpose is not known are stored. She looks at the items and smiles at the stupidity of the Aes Sedai, I am pretty sure Robert Jordan describes one item being like a TV, another like a Mobile Phone, all powered by the one power and, probably not working because there is no Mobile Phone Coverage or TV stations to pick up. She remembers other mundane items who's creation has been lost, even she did not know how to make them.

That one scene over a few pages demonstrates again how wide and complete the breaking was.

But there are also bits of information. One of Rands actions is to create the School of Cairhien, he does this in part to ensure that if he does break the world again then the knowledge regained in this time is not lost. Historians, Philosophisers, Scientists etc all come to learn, teach and share knowledge. He sets up a library, again to try and undo the records lost during the breaking,

Herid Fel manages to gather enough records to have a breakthrough as to how to seal the bore and darkone away in such a way that he can be "re found" again in the future long after the events of all of this are forgotten. (remember all that has been will happen again and the dark one has been found, released and sealed away many times).

The Aes Sedai also have records, and there are other records all over the world. There are also Ter'angreal, stored in private collections, Bayle Doman has a few for instance, the Seanchan have many more.

Again who knows if one or many of these are not record stores, details of the war and a detailed how to, but, the purpose or use has been long lost. Aes Sedai can't figure out how to operate them.

The Doorways the Aes Sedai use to test novices might actually be a way f accessing this history, but they have forgotten.

Or the items you speak of might lie, buried under the ground, waiting to be dug up, discovered or for nature to reveal them.

So the answer to your question is that no, the issue was not just poor record keeping. It was the fact that the Breaking was un planned and could not be prepared for, the 3500 years where civilisation was sent back to the middle ages could not be planned or prepared for. But, in fact, a lot of information was known and recorded as seen throughout the books through what Rand manages to gather together and, Rhuidean, remember that city is full of items and the Aes Sedai have not yet figured out what any of it is actually capable of or contains. It might be that post the last battle they find the complete and total history of the age of Legends and a manual explaining what every single item found does.

In the Dragon Reborn Verin shows this loss of knowledge over time to Egwene.

Fascinating this. Rosel of Essam claimed more then 100 pages survived the Breaking, and she should have known since she wrote barely 200 years afterwards, but only this one piece still exists, so far as I know, maybe only this very copy. Rosel wrote it contained secrets the world could not face, and she would not speak of them plainly, I have read this page a thousand times trying to decipher what she meant.

The page is in a language that requires translating, and Verin proceeds to recite it, but, this single passage shows that written documents expected to survive the breaking, the world, and more over 3000 years of rebuilding human society the best you can expect to survive are scraps, some in languages long lost so reliant on poor translations.

Later in the same book Morraine, on learning that Be'Lal is in Tear, asks Loial what the Ogier remember of him. When Faile gets angry at her lack of knowledge and asks why she asks the Ogier Morraine explains that it has been over 100 generations since the Breaking for Humans but less then 30 for Ogier and there stories still contain information that Humans long ago lost.

So that is at least 2 places in book 3 of the series that Robert Jordan indicates the amount of knowledge that was lost since the breaking. Your idea that "record keeping" could have been better, you can't plan for 3500 years of history, or nations being destroyed, rebuilt and destroyed again and of entire continents being ripped apart.

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  • "Single collection"? That information was available in tens of thousands of copies throughout the world. The only thing needing collection were angreal, not books and manuals with information - those were everywhere. As for the breaking - like you said - it happened over 100 years. Plenty of time to ensure, after every traumatic event, that public records, especially those important for the struggle against the shadow, are intact and everything lost is replicated. The breaking was possible to prepare for, and it was prepared for. But - ridiculously.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 14:07
  • You seem determined to be locked into an idea that somehow Robert Jordan had not thought this through, Humanity was on the edge of extinction, what knowledge there was where things like, how to raise crops, how to smelt metal and work it, how to build a house. Farming for instance was entirely done by the Nym, who where now dead. As for books and papers, again, where do you store it that is not going to be obliterated. If the writer is killed with Balefire, then what they wrote may never have existed so those books and plans just vanish.
    – Richard C
    Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 16:02
  • Also where is your proof that the information your talking about was available in 10's of thousands of books? Where is your proof that books where used and not tablets? Yes printing presses existed but we have no facts about the age of legends other than the brief glimpses given in the wheel of time series. For all we know the idea of using paper was anathema because it involved the cutting down of trees and maybe everything was stored electronically.
    – Richard C
    Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 16:06

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