The Decline of Channeling, or, In Defense of the White Tower

The number of channelers in ‘Randland’ has been declining since the Breaking. Various reasons have been offered for this, but the main ones are; firstly, the fact that male channelers are hunted down, gentled and eventually die, often (since the spark always manifests at an early age) before they can marry and pass on their genes, and secondly, the fact that Aes Sedai rarely marry and have children themselves. Since the laws of the Kin prohibit marriage, women who are sent away from the Tower usually don’t either.

The gene for channeling is recessive. In fact, there are probably two recessive genes; one determining whether the ability to channel is present, one controlling whether or not the channeler has the spark. Since those homozygous for the ‘spark’ gene almost always end up in the Tower, either for gentling or training, this gene at least can only be passed on through heterozygotes. The other one is more common, since channelers without the spark often are never trained and do have children.

There are probably also a number of genes controlling strength (for more detail, read my essay The How And Why Of Channeling) which are also being weeded out. So the channelers that are born, are weaker. In the Age of Legends, from what I gather, the Forsaken were considered strong but not extraordinarily so. Whereas in The Great Hunt Siuan claims that any of the Forsaken would be stronger than ten of the strongest sisters alive today.

Many readers of the Wheel of Time blame the Aes Sedai for this decline, asking “Why, if the Tower has figured out why channelers are getting rarer, aren’t Aes Sedai having as many children as they can?” Which brings me to the subtitle of this essay. Yes, the Tower’s policies are indeed the reason - but it still wasn’t their fault. To show this, let’s take a hypothetical situation: A young Aes Sedai decides to go against Tower policy, marries her Warder, and they have lots of children. It’s an idyllic life - for a while. Until the children grow up.

After all, suppose they can’t channel? Our hypothetical Aes Sedai is then in the position of having to watch her family grow old while she stays young. She’ll be mistaken for her own children’s sister. Then their daughter. She’ll see her husband and children and their children die around her, and at the end of it all she’ll be left alone to mourn for centuries.

Knowing that, who’d go through it? But it gets worse. Suppose the children CAN channel. If our Aes Sedai has a channeling daughter, it’s easier, but there are still problems. If she fails a test, how easily can a mother banish her daughter from the Tower and never see her again? (Besides, think of the confusion of titles. What would the Amyrlin’s mother call her?)

But that’s nothing compared with the problems if she has a channeling son.

Last time I checked, Randland technology is nowhere near advanced enough to allow gender selection in offspring. The mother of a channeling son has two choices; watch him go mad, or let him be gentled and watch him die. Either way, the ‘idyllic’ happy family is going to shatter once the children reach adolescence. Who would go through that kind of pain, just to produce a few more potential Aes Sedai?

Of course, Nynaeve HAS married Lan, and Elayne DOES intend to marry Rand (and with that pair for parents the children can’t help but be channelers) and Egwene’s planning on marrying Gawyn (who is himself the son of one channeler, the brother of another and the nephew of yet a third) and all three couples are planning on eventually having children. And then there’s Siuan and Gareth and Moiraine and Thom, not to mention all the new novices in Salidar, many of whom are married and have children and grandchildren and... you get the idea. Things are changing. But this close to Tarmon Gai’don and the hopeful cleansing of saidin, the gender problem at least won’t be a problem for much longer. Age still will be, of course, but I suppose you can’t have everything.

Raina's Hold / Raina's Library / Raina's Library - Essays