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2012-04-30: I had the great pleasure of speaking with Harriet McDougal Rigney about her life. She's an amazing talent and person and it will take you less than an hour to agree.
2012-04-24: Some thoughts I had during JordanCon4 and the upcoming conclusion of "The Wheel of Time."
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Are the Elantrians zombies? I've been asked this question before. The answer is a little bit yes, a little bit no. I very intentionally don't make any references in the story to them being zombie-like, and I certainly don't call them 'undead.' Both words bring a lot of baggage with them.
No, the Elantrians aren't 'zombies.' However, they certainly would fit the standard fantasy definition of being 'undead.' After all, their bodies aren't really alive, but they can think. Still, I resist comparisons to established fantasy traditions. I wanted the Elantrians to be their own genre of creatures. In the world I have created, they are simply 'Elantrians.' They are people who don't need to eat, whose bodies only function on a marginal level, and whose pains never go away. For the function they fill in the world and the story, I'd rather that they be compared to lepers.
That said, I always have wanted to do a story with a zombie as a main character.
Raoden finally confronts Taan here in this chapter. In a way, the three gangs that Raoden has to defeat represent three things that the Elantrians themselves need to overcome. The first is their solitude, represented by Karata's exclusionary attitude. The second is self-pity, represented by Taan's indulgent madness. The final is their pain, represented by the wildmen of Shaor.
The way, therefore, to defeat Taan was to turn his attention outside of himself. Self-pity melts when confronted with larger issues, such as the beauty and wonder of Elantris itself. I worry that this scene itself was a bit too melodramatic—however, I've always said that the difference between drama and melodrama is how engaged the reader is by the story. If everything is working like it should, this section should seem powerful, rather than over-the-top.
I do think, however, that Raoden's arguments are a bit too philosophical for his audience. I did that intentionally. Raoden is a child of privilege, and he is something of a thinker. His philosophical arguments are probably the first things he himself would consider, because of how curious and interesting they are. However, he doesn't achieve success with this crowd until he turns to more practical observations. In reality, his strongest ally in this scene was the way he broke the tension and the passion of the moment. Once Dashe's momentum was gone, he couldn't convince himself to continue.
You'll note in later chapters that Raoden's victory here wasn't as complete as it was with Karata's band. This is mostly due to the fact that Taan's followers weren't as committed to him as Karata's were to her. Though I still see this as a victory for Raoden, the fact that many of Taan's followers find their way in to Shaor's camp implies that his efforts had some serious side-effects.
And, we finally get to figure out what is going on. As I said, this is one of my favorite triads because of the way it manages to string a cliff-hanger across three separate chapters. I've spoken often of how difficult it was, at times, to maintain the triad structure. However, scenes like these are the reward. We get to see from Hrathen's viewpoint the things spoken off in Sarene's viewpoint, and often (especially later in the book) we can see the same scene from different sets of eyes, seeing different opinions and thoughts manifest.
Another interesting note in this chapter is that we finally get to see what Raoden went through in chapter one. The washing process isn't all that exciting, but I have had several people remark that they were sad to have missed it. I guess that's just human curiosity. Well, for those who wondered what the process was, they finally got to see it in this chapter.
Another big nod of thanks goes out to my thesis committee for their suggestion regarding this chapter. I'm not sure how I missed it, but in the original drafts, Raoden and company never acknowledge the fact that Hrathen had been healed. They never even mentioned it, and they certainly didn't give their thoughts on why it happened.
The fix was an easy one—you can read it in a few paragraphs in this chapter. However, the fact that it hadn't been there before was indeed a problem. Moshe was dumbfounded when I mentioned the oversight to him.
So, thanks Sally, Dennis, and John. You saved me from some embarrassment.
I like the explanation that Raoden gives here for Hrathen's healing. It seems like it would make sense to the Elantrians, and it saves me from having them suspect what was really going on.
Originally, I had the steps leading up to Elantris from the outside be a construction put there by the people of Kae. I knew I wanted a large number of scenes on the wall—it is such a dominant visual feature of the book that I thought it would make a good stage for scenes. However, I quickly realized that it would be the people of Kae—not the Elantrians—who controlled the wall. The Elantris City Guard grew from this idea, as did the set of steps constructed on the outside, leading up.
As I worked more and more on the book, however, I came to realize that the pre-Reod Elantrians wouldn't have needed a city wall for protection.
Obviously, to those who've read more, there is a good Aon-based reason for the wall. However, there is more to it than that, as well.
The wall of the city is a symbol—it's part of the city's majesty. As such, it made more and more sense that there would be plenty of ways to get up on top of it.
When we got the cover art back from Stephen, we were amazed by its beauty. A few things, however, didn't quite mesh with the text. One of these was the set of steps—they were so ornate, so beautiful, that it didn't fit that they would have been designed by the people of Kae. At that point, things kind of fell together, and I realized that there was no reason why the Elantrians themselves wouldn't have put a large staircase outside the city leading up to the wall.
And so, in the final rewrite of the book (the ninth draft) I changed the staircase, and the general feel of the wall, to give the proper sense to the reader. The staircase was placed by the Elantrians as a means of getting up on top the wall. The wall itself became less a fortification, and more a wonder—like the Eiffel Tower. It is there to be climbed and experienced.
You get a couple nice foreshadowing hints here. First, there's the scene that reminds us that—for some reason—Kiin's family knows an awful lot about Elantrians. We've gotten other hints, but they were back a long time ago. The one I remember best is when Sarene was with the twins on the wall. Kaise and Daorn had some things to say about Elantrians that surprised Sarene, I think. Also, notice that Ahan is with Telrii. Though it's presented that the group decided that he should go see Telrii, the actual backstory is that Ahan manipulated himself into the position. It's just another small clue as to what he's planning to do.
Aons are an interesting part of this book—perhaps my favorite of the world elements. If you think about the system I've set up, you'll realize some things. First, the Aons have to be older than the Aonic language. They're based directly off of the land. So, the lines that make up the characters aren't arbitrary. Perhaps the sounds associated with them are, but the meanings—at least in part—are inherent. The scene with Raoden explaining how the Aon for 'Wood' includes circles matching the forests in the land of Arelon indicates that there is a relationship between the Aons and their meanings. In addition, each Aon produces a magical effect, which would have influenced its meaning.
The second interesting fact about the Aons is that only Elantrians can draw them. And Elantrians have to come from the lands near Arelon. Teoish people can be taken, but only if they're in Arelon at the time. Genetically, then, the Teos and the Arelenes must be linked—and evidence seems to indicate that the Arelenes lived in the land first, and the Teos crossed the sea to colonize their peninsula.
Only Elantrians can draw Aons in the air, so someone taken by the Shaod must have developed the writing system. That is part of what makes writing a noble art in Arelon—drawing the Aons would have been associated with Elantrians. Most likely, the early Elantrians (who probably didn't even have Elantris back then) would have had to learn the Aons by trial and error, finding what each one did, and associating its meaning and sound with its effect. The language didn't develop, but was instead 'discovered.'
There are likely Aons that haven't even been found yet.
Oh, and yes, Elantrians can go unconscious. They can fall asleep, after all. The Elantrian brain is the one organ that continues to work very similarly to the way it did before the Shaod. So, taking a large amount of trauma can make it black out. The Elantrian won't remain unconscious forever—but when he wakes up, the actual physical damage will be there. That's why Raoden loses his sense of balance and everything gets fuzzy.
I hope that Dilaf's explanations about his past are suitably creepy. I also hope they give some explanation. He is a man who betrayed his religion when he thought it would save the woman he loved—only to find himself, in turn, betrayed by the Elantrians. His wife became Hoed, and he himself burned her. This would have something of an effect on a man's psyche, I think.
Now, recall that Elantris was at the height of its power when Dilaf took his wife in to be healed. I mentioned her earlier in the book, in a Raoden chapter. He found a story in one of his textbooks about a woman who was improperly-healed, and it turned her into what the Elantrians now are. This is Dilaf's wife. (Go re-read Chapter Twenty-Five for the story.) I find this little item beautifully circular.
Anyway, we now have an explanation for Dilaf's instability and his hatred. I really like how Dilaf, normatively, grows into being the prime villain for this book. He comes to it slowly, kind of stealthily, while the reader is focusing on Hrathen. Yet, Dilaf is there from the first Hrathen chapter, always dangerous, always trying to destroy Elantris, always making his own plans. I worked hard to bring about his rise to power in the book, and I hope that it worked. Puling off the Dilaf/Hrathen reversal was one of my main goals in the story.
I almost cut this entire twist from the book. I've never been happy with how it worked out, and I think there are—as I've mentioned—still a few too many surprises and twists at the end of the book. (Though, I have fixed it somewhat. It used to be that virtually EVERYONE had a secret past or personality trait that came out in these last four chapters.) Anyway, I don't like the Adien twist—it lacks power since we don't really care about him, and his character—the autistic—isn't terribly original anyway.
I've left the Adien twist in for a single reason. However, it's a bit of a spoiler, so I'll put it invisible for those of you who haven't read the ending yet. You can come back and read this later.
Anyway, Adien is my planned hero for book two. I like the concept of a healed autistic being the hero of the next book. And, since he's so good with numbers, he would be incredibly powerful at AonDor. I think he'd be a compelling character to look at, so I left him in this book in case I wanted to use him in the next one.
Adien has been an Elantrian for some time. That's why Kiin's family knows so much about Elantrians. Read back to the earlier chapters, and you'll see a scene or two where Sarene wonders why they know so much about Elantris and its occupants. They hid Adien's transformation with makeup, and his autism kept him out of social circles anyway, so no one really paid much attention to the fact that he was never around.
So, this moment—where Raoden is nearly dead, looking down on the cities, and finally makes the connection—was one of the scenes that made me want to write this book. In each novel I write, I have some important scenes in my mind. They're like. . .focuses for the novel. They're the places I know I need to get, and they're usually very dynamic in my mind. In a way, I tell the rest of the story just so I can make my way to these moments.
This book had two main Moments for me. We haven't gotten to the second yet, but this is the first. I hope that you, the reader, arrived at the realization just as Raoden did. I've had a lot of trouble getting this balance right. Some readers figured out the secret early, while others (the larger group) didn't even understand what's going on in this chapter.
If it requires explanation, Raoden is thinking about Aon Rao. Then he notices that Elantris and the cities around it form a pattern—the exact pattern of Aon Rao. The cities form an Aon on the ground. At this moment, Raoden realizes why Elantris fell, and why the Elantrians went with it. If you haven't figured it out yet, I won't spoil it for you.
So, this is a SLIGHTLY contrived mechanic, and I realize that. I let Raoden off easily by having him simply choose not to be dissolved by the pool.
Partially, I did this simply because I couldn't think of a better way to get him out of it. In addition, however, I think it fits the form of the novel. The pool represents giving in—though it's giving in to peace instead of pain, it is still an admittance of defeat. I've mentioned over and over that the pain has no power against one who doesn't give in to it. I don't see why the peace should be any different. If you can resist one, then you can resist the other.
Besides, the image of Raoden bursting from the pool in front of Galladon and Karata was too good to pass up.
I'm honestly not sure what the pool is or how exactly it fits into the theory of this magic system. It was added as a plotting devise, as mentioned earlier, and therefore was never tied directly to the cosmology or theoretics of the world. When I do a sequel to this book, I think I'll try and find a way to tie it in. For now, however, it's kind of a loose thread. The only thing I know for certain is what I mentioned above. Just like the pain of an Elantrian, I think the peace offered by this pool is a supernatural force. It has something to do with the physical form of the Elantrians.
Now, perhaps, you see why I was worried that I had Raoden too far up on the slope. In order for the plot to work, I had to get him down to the city in a hurry so that he could draw the Chasm Line.
If you think about pacing a little bit as you read this chapter, you'll see that a lot more time is passing between sections than I'm implying by the quick cuts. It probably takes Raoden a good twenty minutes of running to get down that mountain. Fortunately, I've established that Elantrians don't get out-of-breath.
He also runs, dragging the stick, longer than I imply. I think the pacing here is important to keep up the tension. However, if you draw the line, you'll see that he had to cross a good distance of land while dragging his stick.
So, my only worry about the climax here is that it's a little hard to visualize. Because I never quite got the map to look like I wanted it too, it's hard to see what Raoden is doing in this chapter. Essentially, he adds the chasm line to the Aon Rao that Elantris and its outer cities form. Because Elantris was an Aon, it stopped working just like all of the other Aons did when the Reod occurred. I've established several times in the book that the medium an Elantrian draws in—whether it be mud, the air, or in this case dirt—doesn't matter. The form of the Aon is the important part. By putting a line in the proper place, Raoden creates a gate that allows the Dor to flow into Elantris and resume its intended purpose.
This is the scene that made me want to write this book. It, along with the one I talked about in the last chapter, formed a climax that I just itched and squirmed to write. (That's always a good sign, by the way.) The central visual image of this book is that of the silvery light exploding from the ground around Raoden, then running around the city. Storytelling-wise, this is the one scene I wish I could do cinematically rather than in text.
I'm sorry for killing Karata. It felt like the right thing to do right here, even though my readers universally disagree with this decision. This is a very important series of events. If I didn't have any real danger for the characters, then I think earlier events—where characters did die—would come across feeling more weighty. Karata and Galladon throw themselves at a troop of armed soldiers. There was no way for that to end well.
(By the way, none of the readers have even batted an eye about Eshen's death. I guess she got on their nerves.)
Yes, Raoden lets the Dakhor monks go. That's the sort of thing that happens in this book. If you want something more gritty, you can read MISTBORN. (Which is gritty for me, though nowhere near the genius sadism of George R. R. Martin's books.)
I like having this scene from Lukel's viewpoint. If nothing else were gained from his other sections, I think the scene of the Elantrians emerging from the flames would be enough to justify his viewpoints in these last few chapters.
So, anyway, that's one major plot line finished. Elantris has been restored. Most fantasies, however, are about characters more they are about plot. I love great twists and revelations—but the book isn't over until the characters are fulfilled. So, onward.
Elantris is like a massive power conduit. It focuses the Dor, strengthening its power (or, rather, the power of the Aons to release it) in Arelon. This far away from Elantris, however, the Aons are about as powerful as they were before Raoden fixed Elantris.
If you consider it, it makes logical sense that the Aons would be tied to ELANTRIS and Arelon, yet would work without them. The Aons had to exist before Elantris—otherwise, the original Elantrians wouldn't have known the shape to make the city. Their study of AonDor taught them a method for amplifying Aon power.
In the original write of the book, the Dakhor broke and ran before the Elantiran attack. My thought was that the Dakhor always been so much more powerful than their opponents that they didn't know what to do when faced with someone more powerful than they were. In a rewrite, however, I changed this. I'd spent too much time establishing that he Dakhor were fiercely loyal. I see them as fanatics—people who were either originally like Dilaf, or who became like him through their conditioning. They wouldn't break before a superior force—they'd attack it, even if it meant getting slaughtered.
This revision works far better for me—especially since I can have the scene where Dilaf wishes he could join them. Death is not something that scares a group like this.
So, Hrathen wasn't really dead. (Ironically, while many of you are probably saying 'yeah, yeah. That was obvious,' I actually didn't have him appear here in the first eight drafts of the book. I'll explain later.)
I think this is my favorite scene of this chapter. Not only is it written a little better than the rest of the book (I added it quite late—just this last summer) but it gives final closure to the Hrathen-Dilaf relationship. It uses Hrathen's time in Dakhor as an ironic twist against Dilaf. In short, it is a pretty good scene. Fulfills character, plot, and theme at the same time—while giving us a nice image to boot. (Though I do hate to do the "Hey look, a guy we thought was dead is really alive" twist.)
The story behind this scene is pretty recent. One of the original rewrites Moshe asked for was a fix of the ending, which he thought was too Deus Ex Machina. (Which, indeed, it was.) I don't think I'll go into the entire original version here—it was quite different. You can read the alternate ending in the deleted scenes section, when I throw it up next month. The short of it, however, is that Ien (Raoden's Seon) showed up to save Raoden and Sarene from Dilaf. I used a mechanic of the magic system that I have since pretty much cut from the novel (since it was only in the book to facilitate this scene) that allowed Ien to complete his Aon, 'healing' Dilaf. Except, since Ien's Aon was broken, it turned Dilaf into an Elantrian instead. (A non-glowing Elantrian. One like Raoden the group used to be—like Dilaf's own wife became after she was improperly healed in Elantris.)
I know that's probably confusing to you. The scene, over all, was just kind of weak. It relied on a barely-explained mechanic mixed with a tangential character showing up at just the right moment. When Moshe asked for the change, I immediately saw that I needed to bring Hrathen back to life for a few more moments. Letting him die on the street just wasn't dignified enough (though originally I wanted him to die this way because it felt more realistic.) I wanted a final confrontation between Hrathen and Dilaf, since it would give most people's favorite character a heroic send-off, and would also let me tie in the aforementioned Dakhor irony.
In the end, I was very pleased with the rewrite. It's good to have an editor.
Could you out of a Reod Elantrian? The zombie ones?
Um, yes you could.
So what you would be spiking there is their connection to... to the planet, first. That's gonna be the big important thing. So you're going to overwrite your connection. Um, and then you're going to.... it's going to be a complicated process because you're going to have to spike the actual ability to have been transformed, that's gonna be harder.
Does that make sense?
Yeah, so it's gonna take two spikes.
It's gonna take two spikes.
And you gonna have to get the right connection to the right place. Let's say you spike somebody from MaiPon, and then you spike an Elantrian, you're not going to be able to use it, you're not connected to the right area.
They would, um... they are in the middle of a transformation. I would say that yes they could be, but you're going to get like a stutter is what I'd guess you would get, it's like you would get a... a flashing.
Because they're kind of alive, and kind of not alive.
Yeah. And so, yeah, you'd just get a flashing sort of.... something.
Um, a Shardblade would... oh boy. A Shardblade... a Shardblade would still be dangerous to them. The trick is the Shardblade's gonna treat them half alive, half dead. So, it probably would be kind of a flicker, so it depends on when you hit them. It might cut the arm off.
It might cut the arm off...
And it might just leave it dead.