Wherein I continue my investigate of the Wheel of Time through natural language processing. Finally seeing the word clouds in the last post all together inspired me to explore the character arcs present in The Wheel of Time. With such a large cast of characters and plotlines woven together across multiple books, I was hoping to find a way to easily visualize the rise and fall of each character.
Building on the previous statistics of word frequency, I found the top 16 non-English words from each book and recorded their rank. For example in the Eye of the World, Rand is ranked 1st, Mat 2nd, Moiraine 3rd, etc. I then filtered this list and saved only those words that appeared in the top 16 for more than one book. From this list, I removed the highly-ranked contractions he’d, i’ve, and you’re (again, more on this coming later), plus the words Aes, Sedai, Amyrlin, and Althor, as these are either titles or last names.
This leaves us with a full set of main characters and entitites in the series.
Perrin, Aviendha, Elaida, Shaido, Gawyn, Cadsuane, Elayne, Lan, Trollocs, Seanchan, Rand, Min, Aiel, Egwene, Loial, Moiraine, Verin, Tuon, Siuan, Thom, Nynaeve, Birgitte, Ashaman, Faile, Mat
Finally, I manually clustered these characters into five sets, and plotted each cluster’s rankings over time throughout the series. The full code and results are in another Jupyter Notebook.
Discussions of plot points and threads across the whole series follow. Please take appropriate cautions if this is important to you.
Rand, Mat, and Perrin
Our first graph is of the three young ta’veren from Emond’s Field. The main character Rand is a constant presence across the whole series. We can see the slight dip in The Dragon Reborn, where Rand disappears trying to save the others from his madness. However, he drops out of the top 16 all together in The Crossroads of Twilight. It is interesting to note that this book is also seen as a low-point in the series by many fans (earning the lowest rating on Goodreads.com). Mat is more of a constant presence across the series, while Perrin drops out of the top 16 twice. We can also see that the series ends where it began with a focus on these three characters.
Egewene, Elayne, and Nynaeve
Second, we examine the three young Aes Sedai. Their character arcs pick up steam as the series progresses, with their mission to track down the Black Ajah keeping them in focus for the first half of the series. Their paths diverge individually later on, yet they retain the narrative focus, with at least two of them found in the top 16 of each novel. Nynaeve is the top character while hunting down the Black Ajah, while Elayne becomes the series main focus when she fights for the crown in Andor, and Egwene’s circuitous rise to the Amrylin seat places her on top near the end of the series. Nynaeve is the most inconsistent character, dropping out of the top 16 for many books at the end.
Moiraine, Siuan, Cadsuane, and Elaida
Among the remaining characters, one interesting cluster is the elder Aes Sedai. Except for Moiraine’s prominence as the third-highest ranked character in the first book, where she introduces the Emond’s Field crew to their larger mission in the world, the elder Aes Sedai are in the middle-ground, guiding (or foiling) the characters as they complete their tasks. When one drops out, another takes their place, moving from Moiraine to Siuan to Cadsuane to Elaida. Their influence wanes near the end, and after their last hurrah in The Gathering Storm, all four elder Aes Sedai drop out of the top 16 rankings for the last two books, leaving the field open for the young characters to complete their rise.
Aviendha, Birgitte, Faile, Gawyn, Lan, Loial, Min, Thom, and Verin
Beyond these characters, we see an array of supporting roles. Comprising love interests, mentors, bards, and champions, these characters make occasional splashes in the novels, but mostly hover in the low teens rankings. Aside from Min, this cluster pops in and out of focus across the novels, aiding in the main narrative as needed.
Trollocs, Aiel, Seanchan, and Ashaman
Finally, we can group the outsiders and sometime-enemies of the series. While the main fight is against the Forsaken and the Dark One, they never make it to the top 16 rankings beyond a one-novel blip. However, there is a definite signal for the rise of the Aiel in the second quarter, the invading Seanchan in the third, with the series bookended by battles with Trolloc hordes. Also, the Ashaman never move into the top 16 beyond a small emphasis in Crown of Swords or Path of Daggers.
At least in this series, using non-English words appears to be a good way to find the set of main characters. By mapping the characters to their ranks instead of absolute frequency, we can ignore the size of each novel, and concentrate on their relative relationships. What other insights do these charts let you see? Are there other characters you expected to see in these charts that are missing? Let me know in the comments, or remix the code yourself, I would love to know if you find these useful in thinking about the series.