The author died in 2007 while working on what was planned to be the twelfth and final volume in the series. He prepared extensive notes so another author could complete the book according to his wishes. Fellow fantasy author and long-time Wheel of Time fan Brandon Sanderson was brought in to complete the final book, but during the writing process it was decided that the book would be far too large to be published in one volume and would instead be published as three volumes: The Gathering Storm (2009), Towers of Midnight (2010), and A Memory of Light (2013).
The series draws on numerous elements of both European and Asian mythology, most notably the cyclical nature of time found in Buddhism and Hinduism, the metaphysical concepts of balance and duality, and a respect for nature found in Daoism. Additionally, its creation story has similarities to Christianity's "Creator" (Light) and Shai'tan, "The Dark One" (Shaytan is an Arabic word that in religious contexts is used as a name for the Devil). It was also partly inspired by Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace (1869).
The Wheel of Time is notable for its length, its detailed imaginary world, its well-developed magic system, and its large cast of characters. The eighth through fourteenth books each reached number one on the New York Times Best Seller list. After its completion, the series was nominated for a Hugo Award. According to Jordan's French publisher, as of 2017, the series has sold over 80 million copies worldwide, and is the best selling epic fantasy series since The Lord of the Rings. Its popularity has spawned an eponymous video game, roleplaying game, and soundtrack album. On April 20, 2017, it was announced that Sony Pictures will adapt the series for television.
The series is set in an unnamed world that, due to the cyclical nature of time as depicted in the series, is simultaneously the distant past and the distant future Earth; the series depicts fictional, ancient mythology that includes references to modern Earth history, while events in the series prefigure real Earth myths. The series takes place about three thousand years after "The Breaking of the World," a global cataclysm that ended the "Age of Legends," a highly advanced era. Throughout most of the series, the world's technology and institutions are comparable to those of the Renaissance, but with greater equality for women; some cultures are matriarchal. Events later in the series prompt advances similar to the Industrial Revolution.
The main setting for the series is the western region or continent of a larger landmass, both unnamed; however, the western region has been called "The Westlands" in licensed media, and by author Robert Jordan in interviews. The Westlands contains multiple kingdoms and city-states and is bounded on the east by a mountain range. To the east is a desert, the Aiel Waste, inhabited by the Aiel warrior people, who live in small settlements and whose society is organized into clans and warrior societies. Further east is the large and predominantly insular nation of Shara, separated from the Waste by large mountain ranges and other impassable terrain. North of all three regions is the Great Blight, a hostile wilderness inhabited by evil beings. The Westlands are mostly temperate; it and the Aiel Waste are located in the world's northern mid-latitudes. Shara extends slightly south of the equator. Across an ocean west of the Westlands is Seanchan, the name of a landmass and the empire that spans it. Seanchan is narrower from east to west than the other landmass, but extends most of the way between the ice caps from south to north. A large island in the northwest is separated from the Seanchan mainland by a channel. At the beginning of the series, Westlanders are unaware of Seanchan's existence. The World of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time depicts "The Land of Madmen," a small continent in the southern hemisphere, far to the south of the Westlands and the Aiel Waste; it is never mentioned in the main series.