I’m beginning to understand why someone would jump out of a bathtub and go streaking through the streets with a fantastic new idea. Recently, in the shower, my brain decided it wanted to write a graphic novel. The day after, it worked out a genetic explanation of channeling in the Wheel of Time universe. If you haven’t read any Robert Jordan, or if you don’t know basic genetics, this won’t make a huge lot of sense. If you’ve read some but not all, be warned that this explanation contains information you may not have reached. None of it is serious, but if you’re a fanatic about not being spoiled, watch out. I’ll break the article before I get into speculation that people might not have heard or want to hear.
Here’s my model. There are three factors controlling channeling ability: whether you can do it, whether you have the spark or can learn, and how strong you are. Strength and sparkiness don’t seem to be related, and neither seems to be related to sex. What I propose is that basic channeling ability is a recessive, sex-linked trait. There are variations of a gene on both the X and Y chromosomes, X’ and Y’ to borrow from Katherine Kurtz, that enable awareness of, respectively, saidar and saidin. In order to channel, someone has to have this variation on both their sex chromosomes. So an X’Y male can’t channel, but an X’Y’ can. X’X women and X’Y or XY’ men can’t even sense the Source. The elegant part of this is that it explains why men who can channel or learn can sense when a woman is channeling: they have the X’. It also explains why channeling-capable men can only tell other men can channel when they do it, while women have an easy time telling when other women can channel (sensing other Aes Sedai, seeing the glow, knowing who’s sparky), since they have double sensitivity to saidar.
Sparkiness is easy compared to that. It seems to be a simple dominant-recessive or absent-present allele situation. For simplicity’s sake, let’s say there are two possible places on non-X-or-Y chromosomes that the allele (call it “spontaneity,” S for absent and s for present) can appear. If someone has one, and all other genetic markers are in order, he/she is a learner; two means he/she has the spark. This makes for a very easy Punnett square giving about twice as many sul’dam as damane.
I won’t address strength, since it’s not a black-and-white issue and probably involves a lot of genes that most people just don’t use, not having the right matchups in spontaneity or sensitivity. However, I do want to look at what happens when you examine a few special families…. Continue reading