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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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The lack of organized religion he explained with the fact that "Religion has been proven". Shai'tan, the Forsaken, the One Power are known and proven to exist, so there is no need for the big persuasion machines of "real" religion.
No, the cat is not either way; it is both. It is 100% alive, and 100% that the cat is dead, and both things are true. And must be acceptable as true. If you cannot accept this as true, then you are not ready for quantum...for the most basic quantum physics, much less getting into anything beyond.
But the thing is that if you can wrap your mind around Schrödinger's cat, you can also wrap your mind around fantasy. As a matter of fact, the thing that I find very interesting is that...I don't really follow theoretical physics to any degree now, and haven't for more than twenty years. But when I find myself talking to a theoretical physicist, I sometimes get stuck on panels with theoretical physicists. I'm always afraid that I'm going to be left way behind because I haven't kept up in the area, but I find that I can keep up quite nicely. As long as...while they're discussing theoretical physics, I discuss theology. And ah, I find myself able to keep up quite nicely, talking about the same thing.
Amongst others. Any group that believes to know the Truth with a capital T and want you to believe the same. Mostly it's based on groups like the Teutonic Knights, however, since they don't hide behind anything. The Church in the early Christian days, like the Taliban now, are people who know the Truth, and they will kill you if you don't believe the truth.
He did not pick up bits and pieces of groups like the Ku Klux Klan, but the Whitecloaks are simply that, a group of people who know the truth, Veritas.
What about people who have compared your books to the Koran or the Bible?
I'm writing stories. I'm not creating a religion. I'm not starting a movement. I hope they're good stories and that they're entertaining people, but they're still just stories.
When he said he was aiming for two more books, someone from the crowd yelled out "Make it 15 or 20!" meaning, I think, 15 or 20 books total for the series. RJ dramatically looked to the ceiling and abjured the Creator to not listen. He then said he was Anglican, and was therefore allowed to talk to God. Has anyone ever read or heard anything about his religious background? Just curious.
No, I don't believe in magic, which is one of the reasons I structured the One Power very much as if it is a science. In fact, the technology of the preceding age was based on the use of the One Power.
As for how much of my spirituality is in my books, I leave it to anybody else to say whether I have any spirituality. I think I'm pretty grounded.
Schroedinger's cat is really a test in a way. If you can wrap your mind around Schroedinger's cat and accept that, than you are ready to take on quantum physics. I also think, if you can wrap your mind around Schroedinger's cat and accept that, than you are ready to write fantasy.
I don't keep up with the current literature in physics. Occasionally, at conventions, I have been put on panels with physicists—because I have a degree in physics. The only way I can hold my own with the physicists is if I forget talking about physics and start talking theology. If I talk theology, they seem to understand what I'm saying and we get along quite well.
His answer was a description of his bookshelf at home, which begins at the left side with the Christian Bible, continues into more Judeo-Christian texts, then picks up with the Quran, with books on Hindusim (I got the sense he was referring to the Bhagavad-Gita, but would need to check with him to be sure), Buddhist texts, and then what he called various "discourses" on world religion and spiritual philosophy.
In short—RJ is a student of world relgion, which explains much of the religious diversity of his work, not just in terms of the many cultures of his world but in terms of the underlying metaphysical structure of his universe.
By the way, Robert Jordan also sent me an email recently further describing his book collection.
The bookshelf I spoke of is one bookcase that holds my books on religion. There are a couple of others for mythology, and a great many covering nonfiction and fiction. At present, the total collection is around thirteen thousand volumes in my study. That's the carriage house behind what is colloquially called "the big house" in Charleston, the main dwelling, whether it is all that big or not; books in the big house aren't part of this total since most of them are Harriet's, and she doesn't catalog her books. I'm trying to pare that number down because I don't have enough room. Unfortunately, as fast as I can give books away, I buy more. Oh, well.
Yeah, there's spirituality, but not religion.
And how did you, as a writer that usually writes in that, you know… How did that make a difference for you? How did you have to approach it; did you have to make changes in the way that you write because of that?
You know, that's not one specific thing that I felt I had to change a lot about. The truth is, for any given fantasy work you're working on, there are certain things that draw a lot of your attention, that you focus on, and certain things you don't. When I wrote my kids' series, there's no religion in those. That just wasn't important for the world-building and the setting for those books. And I've written other books where religion is very important. Religion fascinates me. I'm a religious person. And because of that, I feel that the misuse of religion can be one of the greatest evils in the world. And so, you see me delving into that sort of thing and just the different approaches on religion. You know, I love to deal with different types of religion and all that sort of stuff. But I think Robert Jordan's approach is very interesting. And I've always liked his approach to it. Like I said, there's a spirituality without a religion. And...the Wheel of Time, that's not an area that's focused on a lot. And so, it was a very easy transition for me. Different books, you spend your efforts on in different places.
On Elantris, I spent a long time on the languages. On Mistborn, I didn't. Because in Mistborn, it wasn't... The world just didn't revolve around the way that languages work. We had an all-oppressive dictator God King who had forced everyone to kind of adopt the same language. Beyond that, the books were taking place at the center capital of the world where everyone spoke the same language. So there weren't even... You know, there were little dialects here and there, but I didn't focus on language there. Whereas I did in Elantris. The same thing with different books, so...
Story, to me, is about character. And if you don't have those characters to latch onto, then your book is not just gonna hold me or grab me. There are plenty of people who enjoy just a solid plot. And a good plot is good, but it's the characters that are the heart and soul of it.
Religion is fascinating to me. I'm a religious person. And the different ways that people approach religion, think about religion, are all very interesting to me. And I find myself dealing with these themes because what fascinates me is what I find interesting and write stories about. It's really no more complicated than that. People ask me, do I put religious themes in intentionally? No. I think that religion is very important to a lot of people, and so people end up thinking about it or talking about it. And so it becomes themes, therefore, in my books.
Granted, what I find frightening or what I find interesting or what I find noble is influenced by who I am and by what my religion teaches. And on the flip side, the misuse of religion strikes me as a very frightening thing. And so I've made religions bad guys in my books before. That wasn't intentional, me saying religion's going to be the bad guy. It's me sitting down and saying, I want an antagonist who is legitimately frightening. What is legitimately frightening to me? Well, this is legitimately frightening: someone who misuses this, who takes things that I think are wonderful and turns them into something terrible. That's frightening. And I like to show all aspects of things if I can in my books.
One thing that strikes me is people's perception of the Wheel of Time. The Wheel of Time is just a structural device: it has seven spokes which represent the seven Ages. The Wheel turns; people forget about the previous Age and a new Age is entered. It goes around seven times and it starts again from square one. Very similar patterns of events occur in each Age, but they are changed, just as two people can have very similar personalities but still be very different people in many other respects. The same way with the different Ages.
So the Wheel does not have a specific purpose. It does not have a motivation. It is not a conscious being. The Wheel is just there, operating as an organizing principle of the world. Jim played down the religious aspects of all this. There is a creator, but there is not even a notion that the creator is God. The creator, of course, is God, but it is the creator. And the creator is not given much of a personality in these books. The creator is a stand-back kind of entity, less so than the Dark One, which opposes the creator and everything the creator has created, which is mankind.
And so, that's all I'm saying: don't read too much into the Wheel of Time. I think the Wheel of Time is also drawn in part from the Buddhist concept of the Wheel of Life. The Wheel of Life is something that we are on. In creation, we are created in who knows what form, evolve through many, many lifetimes, until we no longer have to be on the wheel. We have reached our goal, which in Eastern Thought is being one with God, part of the infinite ocean. In Jim's world, it is not so cut and dried. As far as we know, individuals stay on the Wheel of Time forever.
I think that it does, and yet it's not a direct influence; it's more of an indirect influence. I'm practicing LDS, Mormon, for those who don't know. It shapes who I am, and who I am helps shape my fiction. There's been a long-running sort of argument, so to speak—a nice argument—in fantasy, about how much of it is allegorical and how much of it isn't. If you look back to Grandpa Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, you can see from C.S. Lewis' work he was very allegorical, whereas Tolkien was not. Tolkien was doing story and letting theme grow, and I actually prefer his way of writing. I feel that as wonderful as C.S. Lewis was, when you specifically embed messages, then the story becomes about a message, and not about the characters.
And so I don't go into my work saying: "I want to prove X, Y or Z", I actually go into my work with the opposite opinion. I really believe that one of the great things fiction can do is that it can explore ideas from lots of different viewpoints. And I think because I'm a religious person, religious ideas and conflicts are fascinating to me. But I like to explore these things from different sides, and people who believe in different ways, and I like to make all of their arguments equally sound and equally powerful, because that way when you read the book, you get to see an exploration of a topic, rather than someone taking an answer and shoving it at you, over and over again. It offends me when I read fiction and someone expresses my viewpoint, but they do it poorly. I'd rather they just not have my viewpoint at all than do it poorly.
So I think my religion affects me to be fascinated in these concepts, so religious concepts are in my books. I like to hope that I'm approaching them from lots of different and interesting aspects, but the nature of faith, the nature of hope, the nature of rational thought versus faithful thought: these different things are very fascinating to me, and so they tend to be fascinating to my characters.
In fantasy, we can often approach things like this in a way that is non-threatening. We can change things a little bit and focus in a little bit more on the issue that is interesting to us. I won't say that I never do this, though again character and story are most important, but what I write about grows out of what I'm interested in.
With Idris and Hallendren, I noticed in my own work that I'd been painting religion in a somewhat less than favorable light in recent books; this is partially because I as a religious person think that the misuse of religion is one of the most purely evil things that can happen in the world. So I thought I wanted to play off of some of those sensibilities, and I built what I did in Warbreaker in part to actively show a different side of things. And when I was writing that book, the politics of the United States' invasion of certain countries and other things going on were not something that anyone could really ignore. So I would say that there are themes that grew out of that.
I didn't write the book to make a political statement. Yet at the same time the potential political statements of "Think twice about what you're doing" and of the nature of war and what it can do is something that I'm sure grew out of my own thoughts on the issues.
It was. It was released in June, so I've really been on tour for both that and the Wheel of Time at the same time. Warbreaker is a book I wrote back in 2006. It is a stand-alone single volume epic fantasy. I wrote this before I was even aware that I would be asked to work on the Wheel of Time, and so it's kind of coincidental they've ended up coming out the same year. But that's because the Wheel of Time book which I wrote in 2008 got fast-tracked and came out as soon as they could get it through production, where the other one had been waiting in the queue for a little while.
And so Warbreaker is my solo work. It's about a number of things. Any good book, it's about more than one idea coming together. People always ask me, where do I get my ideas? Well, I find that it's hard to explain because you have to track down so many different ones to talk about where a book comes from. A lot of new or aspiring writers try to write a book with just one idea, and that never works for me. I've got to have a good dozen or so.
But what is Warbreaker about? It's about me reacting against other things I've written, in a lot of ways. The Mistborn trilogy, which you mentioned, is what I was best known for before the Wheel of Time. And it is a series about a group of thieves struggling in a world where evil has won. A lot of epic fantasy deals with the same concept: you know, a young unknown protagonist discovers he has a talent for magic or a destiny and goes on this quest to defeat the dark evil. It happened in Harry Potter, it happened in Lord of the Rings, it happened in The Eye of the World, some of my favorite books. And when it came time to write my own books and break in, I was wondering. . .you know, these stories have been done so well, I want to go other directions. And so Mistborn became the story of what happens if good loses. What happens if the dark lord wins? What happens if Harry Potter would have gotten to the end of that story and Voldemort would have killed him and taken over the world? Or what if Sauron had gotten that Ring? And so that became the history of this book series, and the stories then are about a group of so-called rejects who aren't the prophesied heroes, who aren't following what's supposed to happen, who are working in this world to try and overthrow this empire. So it is a very. . .it's kind of a dark, oppressive series. I think it's very good. People find it very exciting and enjoyable. But there are certain themes: the darkness certainly is one, and the instigating a rebellion against an oppressive force, and these sort of things.
And when it came time to write Warbreaker, I wanted to try something different. I felt that I'd spent so long dealing with darkness, I wanted to use color instead as a focus. And so one of the themes became color and how color represents life, and the magic in the world is based around the concept of color. Beyond that, I'd been thinking for a long time that anarchy and setting up a rebellion and these sorts of things could actually be a lot easier than the concept of stopping a war. Starting one, in many ways, could be easier. And I wanted to tell a story about someone who's working against a ticking time bomb to try and stop two kingdoms which are just bent on going to war with one another because of different factions, and seeing if he could dig out what's really going on and get to the root of it, and stop it.
And that's part of the theme, but there are so many other things. In part, it's about an agnostic god who doesn't believe in the religion that worships him. It's about two sisters who have to exchange roles in life. It's about a sarcastic talking sword who really likes to kill people. I mean, there are a lot of things going on in this book.
And lastly, Mi'chelle and I had an idea while conversing....Have you done firesides, and would you consider doing them?
It's an interesting idea. I honestly don't know. I think I could come up with something. (For those confused, it's an LDS church-group thingy.)
So what religions or mythological traditions are your stories based on?
Different religions, different mythologies. I felt that because America is a melting pot, I had at least some right to mine the mythologies of any nation that is represented in the United States, and also religion. So there are elements that come out of religious books, and there are elements that come out of mythologies, as well. Not done in a mythological way. I try to present these things so that you feel you are in a place that is quite real, and this could actually happen.
I had a bit of a challenge in this book because—and you may want to put a spoiler warning on this interview—at the end of the first Mistborn trilogy, one of the characters became the god of this world. He became a god figure, an almost omnipotent figure. I had planned this from the beginning, but it also offers a challenge, because in this world you have a real deity that is interacting, that is a character—not to say that in our world God doesn't interact with us, because as you know I am a faithful, religious person. However, I think there is a different interaction going here where the reader has spent time with this person as a character, and now he is a deity figure. So how to deal with this is one of the big challenges in worldbuilding this next several hundred years.
I wanted Sazed to be involved—I didn't want to just have him vanish and not be part of things. I wanted to acknowledge what happened with him and make it part of the mythology of the story. But at the same time, having one of your characters turn into God runs you right into the trouble of literal deus ex machina, once one of your characters has all of this power. So walking that line was both exciting and also very challenging.
I like to deal with religion in my books. I like to look at all aspects of it, and in this book I wanted to look at what it would be like if someone like Sazed had been put in this position and people started worshiping him—what do you do with that?
I'm not trying to create a philosophy, I'm not trying to create a religion. If people think that, they're missing the point.
What I'm primarily trying to do is tell a story. If I get to ask you a few questions along the way, that's good. And if I don't get to ask you a few questions, that's good also. If there are any messages it's that everybody has to struggle against evil, as opposed to good. Because you can't depend on a few heroes to take care of it. If you depend on heroes, evil's gonna win. Also, how it's not easy to tell the difference between bad and good sometimes. Sometimes you think a course of action is the right thing to do. And if you do it and a few million people starve to death somewhere, was it really the right thing to do? Unintended consequences too: every action you take will have at least two results that you never intended and one of them will be a result that you really didn't want. You have to contend with that under all circumstances. You can never figure out all consequences of what you do, and you can't stop them because of that. I'm fascinated by these ideas.
A common thread in both Warbreaker and the Mistborn Trilogy is religion. I really liked how you handled religion in both these books. Mistborn deals with religious searching and Warbreaker is more about religious tolerance. I've heard that you are a Mormon. How much does your faith influence your writing?
This is a surprisingly common question for people to ask me, and I'm always happy to answer it because my religion makes up a big part of who I am. Because I am religious myself, I am fascinated by religion. And so I think that the misuse of religion is a great evil, and the use of religion for good reasons is a great good. In fact, being a religious person, I think that the misuse of religion becomes a much more frightening thing than it might otherwise be, which is why you sometimes see religions as villains in my books. My religion shapes who I am, and it makes me interested in certain things; it makes me fascinated by certain things; it shapes my sense of right and wrong.
But I don't actually sit down and write books wanting to advocate any particular concept. I feel that when I write books I need to advocate whatever the character believes at the time. Now, what I feel is heroic may shape the characters I create as protagonists, but I don't think that the purpose of the fiction that I write is to preach directly to the reader. I think that the purpose of the fiction I write is to explore different concepts and different types of characters and see how they react to the world around them. And that's a very different thing than sitting down and saying I'm going to preach to people. So I don't think my religion causes me to do that, but I do think it causes me to be interested in these kinds of concepts.
I'm not even sure how to define myself. In some circles I come across as very conservative; in other circles I come across as very liberal. One of my core beliefs religiously is that I honestly don't mind you believing whatever you want to believe. What I mind is how you treat people who don't believe as you believe. That's what will get me going. So I don't judge someone based on their belief; I do judge them based on how they treat people who believe differently than they do. (That's a concept, by the way, that you may see pop up in a book later on, because I'm actually quoting one of my characters in this case.)
This question delves into religion greatly since I spent a good portion of my free time studying theology. Besides that, being a Christian, I sighted many interesting pieces in "Warbreaker," about the pitfalls of blind faith.
I'm wondering if you are criticizing some religious sects who elevate themselves as God though use God or some other deity as a method of control. With more relevance to the Christian faith, are we seeing the consequences of humans who rely on human reasoning for their understanding of God, an often superficial explanation?
Religious themes are interesting to me. I rarely go into a book saying, "I am going to expose this foible of religion" or "I am going to highlight this wonderful part of religion." I go into a book telling stories about characters, and the ways that they believe and the things that they believe have an effect on them. I try to present those as realistically as possible.
I do think that there is a dangerous line between faith and what goes beyond that. You call it blind faith, yet at the same time there is something to be said for trusting those who have gone before and for not having to fall in a pit yourself because other people already fell in that pit. Where that line comes is a subject of great debate between religious people and non-religious people. I do think that questions should always be allowed and should always be asked. It is important to be asking questions.
I don't really mind how people believe, or what faiths people have. I think it's a fascinating part of us, that we all have different faiths. Where we stray into danger is in how we treat people who don't agree with our faiths. That, I think, is a very dangerous and frightening thing — the ways that various people treat others who disagree with them. No matter what side you're on, whether they belittle them, discard them, or destroy them, these various things are one of the great pitfalls of any type of belief or faith. So I deal with that. But again it's not because I sit down and say, "I am now going to write a book about this, or tell a story about this." It's because that's what's important to the characters I'm writing.
That said, when I was approaching Warbreaker, I did think distinctly to myself, "You know, religion's been the bad guy in the past two stories you've told. You probably ought to do something different." That's why the—Spoiler alert!—the religion in Warbreaker is vindicated in the end. I think there are some very good things about their religion, and though Siri is convinced that they are the bad guys, it turns out that indeed they are not. In fact, they are quite good...though there are certain things they're doing that I wouldn't necessarily agree with.
I'm not sure how free we are around here with spoilers regarding the Mistborn trilogy, so I'll try my best to avoid anything that will get me strung up.
The Mistborn trilogy left everything on the table, so to speak, with regards to the validity of a particular religion and its deitie(s). I worried the final scenario left no room for other religions to manifest in that world thereafter, and yet here we have Alloy of Law, which involved a few different religions (some of which we -the readers- know to be false) and somehow it seemed to work. My questions are:
1.What were some general challenges that you had to deal with when establishing the religious backdrop of the story?
2.Though you include brief examples of interaction with a deity in the novel, can you further explain some of the limits of that deity's ability to interact with the world in which the story takes place? The brief explanation in the novel seemed rushed. Then again, there didn't seem to be room for much philosophical debate during the awesome actions scenes.
Thank you for taking the time out of your day to deal with questions like these.
You covered the biggest challenge. However, you have to remember that as a religious person, I do believe in God in our world--and we have a ton of religions, many of which are related and interpreting the same concepts and scriptures in many different ways.
As for this deity, you're right--this book didn't have the space for a lot of philosophy. However, I can get into it a little bit here. He does not interact partially because of his innate nature, which allows him to see many different sides of a lot of different debates and activities. On the other hand, I am a firm believer that the nature of free will demands people to actually be given opportunities to make decisions. Stopping them just before, ala Minority Report, doesn't cut it for me. So, the deity in question feels he must be very careful about direct involvement, instead letting people act and react--and letting choices be made.
That said, I want him to be involved. Just more in a "I give people the tools they need to accomplish goodness," rather than "I'll just step in and make sure everyone does everything right."
Yeah actually, a lot of your characters seem to crises of faith, particularly Sazed in the Hero of Ages where he essentially questions all his- everything he's come to believe. Have you ever experienced any conflicts with your own religious faith about including such characters in your books?
That's also a good question I would- Conflicts is perhaps the wrong way to put it in that I believe strongly in the precepts of people like Socrates in that the unexamined life is not worth living and I find that if I'm interested in something I should question it, I should examine it from as many directions as I can.
I tend to do that in my fiction it's the way I express myself Rather than writing a journal, I write stories that explore what I'm working on, myself, what I'm interested in and I find it vital that I attack them from lots of different directions not just the way I am, but the way I see other people exploring the same problems, the same questions.
It's just - it's valuable to me as a writer and as a person that I explore these things in depth, so I've never seen conflict but I certainly have expressed my own questions and examinations through characters as they have reached similar moments in their lives.
Perhaps the most interesting of Hrathen's internal thoughts in these chapters is his conviction that it's better to do things that cause him guilt, as long as it saves people's souls. This is a logical conundrum I've considered on several occasions. Taking Christian theology—which says that a soul is best off when it is 'saved'—wouldn't it be the ultimate sacrifice not to die for your fellow man, but to somehow sacrifice your own soul so that he could be saved? In short, what would happen if a man could condemn himself to hell so that another man could go to heaven? Wouldn't that act in itself be noble enough un-condemn the man who unfairly went to hell? (Enter Douglas Adams, and god disappearing in a puff of logic.)
Anyway, that's the logical fallacy I see Hrathen dealing with here. He knows he bears a heavy guilt for the bloodshed he caused in Duladel. However, he's willing to take that guilt—and all the damage it brings—in order that people might be saved. He allows his own soul to bear the burden, rather than turning it over to the church. Again, I see this as a fallacy—but it certainly does make for an interesting line of reasoning.
Sarene's visit to the chapel is probably the strongest scene in the book dealing with the Korathi religion. I felt this scene was important for the sake of contrast. Hrathen, and therefore Shu-Dereth, gets quite a bit of screen time. Unfortunately, Sarene and Raoden just aren't as religious as Hrathen is. I consider them both to be believers—Sarene the more devout of the two. Religion, however, isn't as much a part of their lives as it is for Hrathen.
I've actually seen this kind of aggressive religion/passive religion dynamic before. (Referring to the dynamic between the peaceful Korathi believers and the aggressive Derethi believers.) In Korea, where I served as a full-time LDS missionary, Buddhism and Christianity are both fairly well represented. Buddhism is having problems, however, because it doesn't preach as aggressively as most Christian sects. It is not my intention to paint either religion in a poor light by adopting the aggressive religion as the antagonist in ELANTRIS. However, even as a Christian, I was often troubled by the way that the peaceful Buddhists were treated by some Protestant missionaries. I was there to teach about Christ's gospel—I believe that Christ is our savior, and that people will gain happiness by following his teachings. However, I think you can teach about your own beliefs without being belligerent or hateful to people of other faiths.
The most memorable example came when I was walking in the subway. Often, Buddhist monks would set up little mats and sit chanting with their bowls out, offering prayers and chants for the people while trying—after the tenet of their religion—to gain offerings for their sustenance. Standing next to one particular monk, however, was a group of picketing Christians holding up signs that read "Buddhism is Hell." You could barely see or hear the monk for all the ruckus.
I guess this has gotten a little bit off from the source material. But, well, this is a book about one religion trying to dominate another. In the end, I don't think Hrathen's desires are evil (it's okay to want to share what you believe—it's even okay to think that you're right and others are wrong.) His methods, however, are a different story.
In other words, I think we should be able to preach Christianity (or whatever you happen to believe) without being complete jerks. (Sorry for that little tangent. I'll try to keep the rants to a minimum in the future.)
You should notice the comments about unity popping up in religious scenes throughout the book. Omin spoke of it before, and Hrathen often thinks—or mentions—the concept. When designing the religions of this book, I really wanted them to feel authentic. If you look at our own world, one thing is obvious (I think) about the way major religions work. They always fragmented—different sects of the same teachings often rise up and squabble with each other. Judaism, Islam, and Christianity share obvious links. In a similar way, Hinduism, Buddhism, and other eastern religions share some common roots.
So, in designing the Korathi and Derethi churches, I decided to give them a common ancestor—Shu-Keseg. All three religions came from the teachings of a single Jindoeese man. (You might note that the word 'Shu,' as used in connection with Shu-Korath and Shu-Dereth, doesn't seem to fit the linguistic styles of Aonic or Fjordell. This is an intentional reference to the Jindoeese commonality of their origin.)
The central tenet of Keseg's teachings was unity, and his followers began to squabble about what he meant by 'Unity.' Hence we have the loving, inclusive Korathi; the aggressive, expansionist Derethi; and the contemplative, didactic Jindoeese.
Of course, Jesker and the Mysteries are a completely different religious line. We'll get more into them later. . . .
Father Omin, by the way, 'traces Aon Omi' on Hrathen's chest as part of the religious service. This should look familiar. It is a subtle little thing, but I wanted to show how the Korathi religion has been influenced by its proximity to Elantris. The priests probably wouldn't do something like this in Teod. In a way, Hrathen is right—Elantris has had a corrupting influence on those around it.
However, 'corruption' is probably too strong a word. Religions adapt as their people adapt, and often times cultural elements are incorporated into belief structures. People have asked me, as a Christian, what I think about Christmas itself being set in place of a pagan holiday. Doesn't really bother me. The day we happen to celebrate the birth of Christ doesn't have any doctrinal importance to me. A religious person has to be willing, in my mind, to accept that while truth may be eternal, the way we interact with it—as changing human beings—must needs be influenced by the way we think and the way society works.
It doesn't matter if my religion 'borrowed' things from other religions or cultures—especially if the things we filched added good things to the religion. That's what humans do. We adapt. We steal. This especially makes sense if you happen to be a writer. (We're really good at stealing. . .uh, I mean 'adapting.')
Time for my second favorite chapter! (The first, if you recall, was the one where Raoden led Karata to the king's palace.)
There are so many things going on in this chapter that I don't quite know where to start. I guess I'll begin with the Mysteries. I drew part of this religion, including the name, from the mystery cults of ancient Greece. I added the ritual sacrifices to give them a bit of zing. You'll get a little bit more of an explanation of the Mysteries, and why someone might decide to join one, in a later Sarene chapter.
As I've noted before, religion—especially its dark side—is a theme in this book. I don't think I could have covered this subject well in the book without including a look at cult mentality. Now, I'll admit that 'cult' is a word we bandy about too frequently in religious discussions. It has been noted that Christianity started out as a kind of cult, and it seems that many consider any unorthodox religion to be a 'cult.'
To me, however, a cult is something that twists who you are, changing you into a shadow of what you used to be. I firmly believe that you can judge a religion by the effects it produces in its practitioners. Does it make them better people? If so, then there's a good chance that the religion is worth something. Does it turn them into people who sacrifice their own servants in an effort to make evil spirits come and kill their daughters in law? If so, well. . .you might want to stay away from that one.
Anyway, the Mysteries were—in my mind—a natural outgrowth of the Mystical Jesker religion. Like Galladon is always saying, they're NOT the same religion. The Mysteries are a perversion and simplificication of Jesker teachings. Jesker looks to the Dor—the power behind all things—and tries to understand it. The Mysteries treat the Dor like some kind of force to be manipulated. (Which actually, is what AonDor does. . . .)
Another short, but powerful, Hrathen chapter. This is the head of Hrathen's character climax for the first half of the book. He has been questioning his own faith ever since he first met Dilaf. It isn't that he questions the truthfulness of the Derethi religion—he just has become uncertain of his own place within it. I wanted this moment, when he's semi-consciously watching the eclipse, to be the moment where he finally decides upon an answer within himself.
This is a major turning-point for Hrathen. His part in the book pivots on this chapter, and the things he does later are greatly influenced by the decisions he makes here. I think the important realization he realizes here is that not every person's faith manifests in the same way. He's different from other people, and he worships differently. That doesn't make his faith inferior.
In fact, I think his faith is actually superior to Dilaf's. Hrathen has considered, weighed, and decided. That gives him more validity as a teacher, I think. In fact, he fits into the Derethi religion quite well—the entire Derethi idea was conceived as a logical movement.
When I was designing this book, I knew I wanted a religious antagonist. Actually, the idea for the Derethi religion was one of the very fist conceptual seeds for this novel. I've always been curious about the relationship between the Catholic church and the Roman empire. While Rome itself has declined greatly in power, the church that grew within it—almost as a side-effect—has become one of the dominant forces in the world. I wondered what would happen if an empire decided to do something like this intentionally.
The early Derethi leaders, then, were a group who realized the problems with the Old Fjordell Empire. It collapsed upon itself because of bureaucratic problems. The Old Empire was faced with rebellions and wars, and never managed to become stable. The Derethi founders realized the power of religion. They decided that if they could get the nations of the East to believe in a single religion—with that religion centered in Fjorden—they would have power equal to, or even greater than, the power of the Old Empire. At the same time, they wouldn't have to worry about rebellion—or even bureaucracy. The people of the other nations would govern themselves, but would give devotion, loyalty, and money to Fjorden.
So, these men appropriated the teachings of Shu-Dereth and mixed them with some mythology from the Fjordell Old Empire. The resulting hybridization, added to the Fjordell martial work ethic, created an aggressive, intense religion—yet one that was 'constructed' with a logical purpose in mind. The Fjordell priests spent the next few centuries converting and building their power base. The result was the New Empire—an empire without governments or armies, yet far more powerful than the Old Empire ever was.
This chapter asks the question 'What is a miracle?' You've heard me wax pontificatory too much on religion, so I'll hold off here. Instead, I'll just point out that what Hrathen thinks—that something can be a miracle even if there was nothing 'miraculous' involved—makes perfect sense, I think. Look at it this way. A) Hrathen believes (as many in our world do) that God controls everything. B) Hrathen believes (as many in our world do) that God can do whatever he wants without expending any resources or weakening Himself. C) Therefore, it doesn't matter to God whether or not He has to 'magically' cause something to occur or not—as long as an event is made to coincide with what He wants to happen, it is miraculous. It's just as easy for Him to make something occur through the natural flow of the universe as it is for him to make it occur through breaking of normal laws.
(This, by the way, is why 'miracles' such as faith healings or the like should never, in my opinion, form one's grounds for belief in a particular religion.)
You'll notice in the 'Sarene prays in the chapel' scene that I take care to describe how high-necked, long-sleeved, and generally enveloping Sarene's dress is. Hopefully, this doesn't look suspicious. However, those of you who are watching carefully probably realized what was going to happen at the wedding. This was just too good an opportunity to pass up—for the surprise factor, for the wrinkles it throws in to the plot, and because it lets me mix Sarene and Raoden again.
This prayer scene also offers our first, and only, real look into Sarene's religious mindset. Her faith is probably one of the only simple aspects of her personality—she believes, and it doesn't need to go much further than that for her. That's why I had this prayer be so simple. Sometimes, a simple thing can be far more powerful than a complex one.
Okay, now, I know you're going to laugh at me here. However, I suppose you deserve to know the whole story of this book. After all, I told you about the whole 'Adonis' thing.
Well, the thing is, the first version of the book included about two pages of poetry from WYRN THE KING. I think every prose writer goes through a stage where we think, for some reason, that we have a talent for poetry. It's doubly bad in fantasy, where we've all read Tolkien, and fell like adding poems, songs, and the like to our stories.
The thing is, most of us aren't very good at it. WYRN THE KING was a narrative alliterative poem patterned after BEOWULF, and it was TERRIBLE. I might be masochistic enough to post it in the 'deleted scenes' section of the website. I'm honestly not sure yet. (Actually, I wrote the poem as a college assignment. I wiggled out of doing something research-oriented by somehow convincing my teacher that I deserved to do a creative project instead. When I finished, I felt a little bit obliged to stick it in my current book, as I'd told my teacher I would. Sorry, Dr. Thursby, but. . .uh. . .it didn't make the final cut.)
Anyway, there was a point behind sticking the poem in the text, even if I completely overshadowed it by including so many lines of poetry. This section is really all we get in the book itself about Fjorden's past. As I've explained in the annotations, Fjorden switched to Shu-Dereth to do its conquering, relying on religion rather than armies. When they did so, they went back and rewrote many of their great classics. (Orwell would be proud of them.)
This is actually based on some events in our world. Some scholars think that BEOWULF underwent similar revision, the monks who copied and translated it adding Christian symbolism to the text. After all, no great artist could possibly have been a true pagan. Everyone knows that Aristotle was a Christian—and he died before Christ was even born!
Each of these books has a strong theme of religious tolerance and acceptance of others: how does that relate to your personal faith?
I am a religious person. I am LDS, Mormon. I am fascinated by religion in all its different aspects. My religious nature meshes with my storyteller’s nature. The storyteller in me seeks to explore as many different ways of thinking as possible in my fiction.
One of the ways that I explore the world is by saying: let’s take this person who believes like me and this person who believes very differently from me, and let them have a conversation and see what grows out of it. In a lot of ways fiction is about trying to see through as many different eyes as possible, at least for me, so you find these explorations.
Mixed with that is, being a religious person, I think the misuse of religion for the wrong purposes is one of the most purely evil things that can exist in the world. Actually I think the atheists and I would agree on that. I also find myself exploring that; what happens when you misuse religion for the wrong purposes. Like I said, I am a philosopher at heart, and so being able to look at these different philosophies of life is very interesting to me. Religion, religious tolerance, religious intolerance in characters is what I’m trying to show: how the world works through their eyes.
You're showing all the colors of the rainbow.
I try. I try very hard. As a writer you have to try to make an argument for someone—whether it’s an argument where you believe their view personally or you don’t—your characters have to be true to themselves. You have to be able to make the argument strong enough that someone who holds that view dearly, reading the book says, ‘Yes, that’s my argument, that’s how I would make it.’ That’s tough but I think it’s vital. Nothing ruins a book for me more than someone who expresses my viewpoint in a book and I find them making a weak argument, not making the argument the way I would, just so that they can be taught a lesson. That ruins the story for me. It is no longer a story; it’s preaching. If you’re going to have characters who are strong, they need to espouse strong beliefs and express them strongly in a way that is not lukewarm. I believe that, so I try hard.
You were a missionary in Seoul.
Has this cross-cultural experience influenced your writing?
Yeah, it has, quite a bit. One of the things you notice is that once you go live in a different culture, it opens your eyes to the different ways people can think, and how varied it is. Learning a new language and being immersed in it really opens your eyes to how language can affect thought and thought process.
Beyond that, growing up as a white male American, I never had to be the outsider. Living in a culture where suddenly you are, even though I was a privileged minority, not an underprivileged minority—I don’t know if there is a place you can go in the world where a white male American is an underprivileged minority—but just being a minority changes things. I think my writing grew much stronger.
I would suggest to every American, particularly, that this is an experience that would be very good for them. We Americans do tend to be a little bit turned inward. In Europe you have to experience dual cultures and things like that. I don’t know how it is in Australia, but in the States it’s pretty easy to forget the rest of the world. That’s a criticism that is levelled against the States quite reasonably. Going among another culture, serving the people there and forgetting yourself for a while, is just a wonderful experience. Absolutely wonderful.
We've now seen Sazed preach a couple of religions to members of the crew. You may be interested in my process of coming up with his character.
It actually began when I was watching the movie THE MUMMY. Yes, I know. Sometimes it's embarrassing where we come up with ideas. However, my inspiration for Sazed was the moment when the oily little thief character gets confronted by the mummy, and pulls out a whole pile of holy symbols. He goes through each one, praying to each god, looking for one that would help him.
I began to wonder what it would be like to have a kind of missionary who preached a hundred different religions. A man who, instead of advancing his own beliefs, tried to match a set of beliefs to the person—kind of like a tailor looking to fit a man with the prefect and most comfortable hat.
That's where the inspiration for the entire sect of Keepers began. Soon, I had the idea that the Lord Ruler would have squished all the religions in the Final Empire, and I thought of a sect of mystics who tried to collect and preserve all of these religions. I put the two ideas together, and suddenly I had Sazed's power. (I then stole a magic system from FINAL EMPIRE PRIME, which I'll talk about later, and made it work in this world. Feruchemy was born.)
Yeah, that's actually been very interesting for me, because my love of fantasy causes me to seek out and create these, like, what we call secondary worlds, and it certainly leads me to a lot of interesting questions about my own faith and my own belief, and what parts of things that I believe are mythology, and what parts of things I believe are hard-core truths, and what is the line between those? Sometimes, do we tell ourselves stories that are meaningful on multiple levels? All of that sort of thing is fascinating to me, and you find me working that out in my fiction where I approach, you know, the nature of truth, and what does it mean...you know, capital T Truth and lower-case t truth. Very fascinating to me. I'm fascinated by religion; I'm fascinated by belief, and what causes us to believe and what causes myself to believe.
Alright, and we should mention the scale of your own work because it's prolific. There are four novellas, three standalone novels, four books in the Alcatraz series, four books in your Mistborn series, you've started a new series called The Stormlight Archive....can I just stay on this business of being a Mormon, because it's been pointed out that there are many science fiction and fantasy writers who are Mormons. Do you think that's right, that the Mormon writers are attracted to this as a genre?
You know, I've actually talked about this a lot with people, and everyone has their pet theory. It may just be that by being part of a kind of distinctive sub-group, we're noticeable, and so people make the connection. We may not have much of a higher percentage than anyone else. That might be true; I don't know if it is. It certainly does seem there's a lot of us. Orson Scott Card, Stephenie Meyer, myself, Shannon Hale....all of these people. We write fantastic stories. I can trace my involvement in it back to the fact that there is an author named Tracy Hickman who wrote Dragonlance and he was Mormon, and I read those books and loved them; I think that's the first time I experienced an LDS fantasy or science fiction author. I went to Brigham Young University, and there was a class there that was started by someone who just loved science fiction and fantasy and was teaching it, and a lot of us who are now writing it took that class, and maybe it's just the class. I don't know; I really don't know what it is. Maybe it's the focus on literacy in LDS culture, and—there is a very high focus on literacy; a lot of readers, a lot of writers—and so you find a lot of Mormon writers in all genres. My own pet theory is, for me, fantasy and science fiction was a safe counterculture. Growing up as a kid who basically wanted to be a good kid but also wanted to rebel a little bit—do something his parents didn't understand—I started playing Dungeons and Dragons. I started reading fantasy novels, and I found myself in them when I read them—something distinctive, something imaginative, something new, but also something a little bit bizarre, and I like being a little bit bizarre.
(laughs) Yes, well that's a good thing to be in the world; I think "A Little Bit Bizarre" would be a great thing to put on your coat of arms, really. You know, rather than "Seek the Truth" or, you know, "Be Noble".
Here lies Brandon Sanderson: A Little Bit Bizarre.
Yes and no. I don't go into books with a message. At the same time, I like to read about heroism, and I like to read about moral choices. I like to read about all spectra of moral choice, honestly. I like to approach an issue and say, you know there's going to be five or six valid points on this same issue, and everyone is going to think that their side is the moral side, and I want, in my books, each one to have a legitimate ground to stand on. I don't want to be picking a side necessarily; I want to be offering the item up for discussion. I think that true morality is making you think and consider your actions as opposed to just doing them, and I think there's a real strong morality to forcing you to see other perspectives and other sides. So I would say that I like my fiction to be moral but from that definition of moral. I don't look at my fiction as necessarily teaching people which way to act, though I do think about it a lot. I think about what my role is as someone who is writing fiction that people are reading and experiencing, and what influence I have over them, and what responsibility that affects upon me. These are all very important things that I think about quite a bit. At the end of the day I want to tell a great story about characters you care about, who sometimes think differently than you do.
You know, yeah, a lot of people talk about there's no way that he could have done it. Being a fantasy writer myself, I don't think it's outside the realm of possibility that he could have written it himself, and I think basing your testimony, in the church, based on a concept like that is the wrong way to go. It is the wrong way to go, basing your testimony on, "Well, it's obviously impossible that he wrote it, therefore it must be true..." That's actually a bad logical way to look at the church.
I look at the church through eyes of faith, and my testimony is based solely on the fact that I believe God has spoken to me. I ask him, I say, "Is this what you want me to do," and I felt that testimony; I felt that burning inside, and for me, you know what, honestly, it doesn't happen that often for me. It's not like, you know, some people, they go to church, and every time it's like...no. I can point to three distinct points in my life where I felt that testimony, and other times I felt a good comfort, but there are three things where I said it was, you know, knock me down, this is true, that....and it wasn't even necessarily focused on the church. One was that I should be a writer, and one that I should be marrying my wife. The other one is very personal, so I won't mention that one, but those two moments I felt a powerful, powerful presence, and it came down to one of two things for me: either this is confirmation bias, which I assume you know about—either it's confirmation bias or it's the truth, and because if there is a God, he's not going to let me have this moment thinking that there....that, you know, this isn't going to be a lie. Either God is real and I'm feeling these sorts of confirmation...it really became that dichotomy for me, feeling those two things.
And from there, I just try to do the best I can. This faith has worked very well for me; I have not received any necessarily, moments saying "don't do this." There are lots of things in any religion—LDS faith is not alone in this—there are lots of things in any religion that are going to raise some eyebrows. You say, look, there's some logical holes here, and it doesn't matter which religion you're talking about; there's gonna be those. And because I've had those moments, those are what I have based, fundamentally, my faith upon, and honestly, for me, it's a choice between atheistic humanism, which has some very valid points, and the faith that I have now, and I only...you know, it's very Cartesian. Descartes, you know, "I think, therefore I am." I have to rely on my senses and my emotions, and feeling what I felt, if I say, "That's just confirmation bias," for me that means that I can't really rely on my senses, and I don't really want to go that way. I want to rely on what I have felt, and you know, on a more lofty scale I think there's more to it than all of this, than just this world. I think there's gotta be.
And that's, you know...who knows? Maybe the secular humanistic approach is right, and I have no problem with the secular humanists; I don't think that there's this....you know, these are generally sincere people who are interested in finding truth, but you know what, I believe that I can follow the scientific method for my faith. I can say, "Is this true?" I can pray. I can feel a confirmation, and it's repeatable. It's, every time I've wanted it, I've felt it. That's enough for me to go forward in faith right now. So, that's my version of a comment to you. I don't mind if you post that—I really don't; it's okay—but you know, I think we just do the best we can, and we soldier forward.
Alright, thank you very much.Thanks for talking to me.
Yeah, thank you.
I am a religious person, and so I am fascinated by religion and all of its aspects. I am fascinated by why people believe, why people don't believe. I am fascinated by the motivations behind this, and I am fascinated by what happens when religion goes bad. I am fascinated by what happens when religion goes well. So what I am interested in ends up in my books.
Beyond that, it pops up time and time again because [my books] are all connected: I hid some recurring characters in Elantris and the Mistborn trilogy, and [readers] started to pick it up by the time Warbreaker came out. There is an underlying theme behind them all and an underlying deeper story that is going on behind the scenes with some big theological components. It's within the thematic nature of the complete series—one that will eventually be told, assuming I live long enough. And if not, I'll leave good notes, so someone else can finish it! Turnabout is fair play.
(split from another question) ...And a question chosen vicariously for another friend: has the Creator been very intimately and directly connected to the story, or is he kind of like the absent god, where he set things in motion and left?
(split from another question) ...And then, the question of the role of the Creator, by which you mean God, not the writer?
Yes, exactly. [laughter]
As you know, he said he didn't believe writers who said, "I just work to a certain point and then the characters take it over." He said, "I don't believe that for a minute." [laughter] Actually, what he said was, "I am Old Testament god, and my fist is in the middle of my characters' lives." But the way he envisions the Light in these books is that they have a very immediate sense of the Creator, which is—they don't need churches, because he's right there for them. Not that they don't believe; they believe so deeply that they live their lives in a sense of God, the Creator.
And the question is also, has the Creator been intimately connected to Rand's journey? Did the Creator purposefully set Rand up to be the Dragon Reborn?
I think only in the sense that the Creator is perceived by the characters as being pretty intimately involved in all their lives.
Thank you. Tai'shar!
Warning: Churchiness follows! Just saw Bruce R. McConkie's final testimony (from back in 1985) for the first time. Wow.
Amazing, isn't it? AMAZING. We watched it when I was in the MTC.
Yeah. I'm surprised I missed it. 18 months of cancer, this, then dead in about a week. Gave me chills.
Oh no, no church for me. I might fall asleep. Oh man, I'm horrible.
I'm super surprised you haven't heard it before. It's, like, everywhere in the Church.
Yeah, I've heard it mentioned—but just never watched/heard it.
Harriet, do you have any insight on this one?
Well, this may sound silly, but I think the real answer for you is to be found in the Book of Job, where there is a tremendously hands-off Creator. And I personally have always had a lot of trouble with the Book of Job. But Robert Jordan was brought up Baptist, and was brought up in the belief that the Bible in one man's hands is enough to get that man to heaven, to the presence of God, in the long run. And I think that there are no churches in the Wheel of Time, they're very aware of goodness. They know what the Light is, even though they're not talking to it. If that helps.
Yes, thank you.
My favorite part of the Mistborn trilogy was Sazed and his scholarly work. I really liked how you described the motivations behind and the methods used in his analyses of religious doctrines. It seemed like you took a lot of care in writing about his quest.
Was Sazed's search inspired by any sort of scholarly work you've done, on religion or otherwise?
Yes, it was, though his sequence in the third was one of the most difficult to get right in any book I've written. Originally, I wrote it as him having already come to the conclusion he does near the end—that all religion is false—and that left him wallowing about in a depressive funk through most of the book. This was just horribly boring to read, and it was only through revision that I decided to show his quest.
I am a religious person, and have spent a lot of time thinking, questioning, and deciding what I believe and why. I don't think questions like these are easy ones to answer, and anything that is difficult is prime material for storytelling in my mind. Writing Sazed was an exploration for me as much as it was an exploration for the character.
If you had a time machine, where would you travel to?
Learn Hebrew. Go listen to Jesus. Get free bread and fish. After that, forward in time to get myself a flying car.
Not to be "That Guy" (as I am also a fan of your works), but Jesus likely spoke Aramaic.
Ha. Well, that's probably the language of his sermons, so I guess I would need that one too. And probably Greek, just to be careful.
Man. Owning a time machine is tough work.
Do you feel your Mormonism is ever at odds with some of the hivemind aspects of Reddit? For example, Orson Scott Card is particularly reviled around here, though more for his personal views on what many consider to be a societal issue rather than a religious one.
I mostly hang out in places like /r/fantasy, /r/askhistorians, and /r/magicTCG. Things like foodforthought and truereddit also interest me. The smaller subreddits are a wonderful thing.
At times, I feel at odds with what I'm reading—which is just fine. If I only ever read things that are what I would say, I'm not learning anything new. Now, sometimes when you combine large groups and anonymity, you get some pretty caustic interactions. I avoid those. I don't feel reddit is any worse or better in this regard than other websites. But, then, I have RES and actively use it to manage things, so perhaps I don't see much of the worst of it.
I know your Mormon faith is very important to you. In a lot of your books, religion plays a major role in the story. How important is it to you to include religion in your stories? Do you ever try to subtly influence your readers views on religion through your writing?
I tend to write about things that interest me. My religion is important to me, and so religion in general fascinates me. I find myself including it not as a requirement, but as an aspect of what I find interesting.
As nothing bothers me more than reading a book in which the person who believes like me is treated like an idiot, I try to be aware of peoples beliefs (or lack thereof) and explore the issue in multiple dimensions.
My intention in writing stories it to write great stories. Who I am, and what I find moral, is going to seep into it—I don't know that I'd want to stop that. However, I'm not trying to influence people specifically. I do try to present interesting ideas, but I let those be driven by the characters.
This is actually a harder question to answer than, at times, I've realized. I feel that people are given talents to enrich the lives of those around them, and I feel our job as people on this earth is to do our best to make life better for everyone involved. Can fantasy stories do that? I hope so. But I don't sit down to say "What am I going to teach people today?" I sit down and write, "What can I do that is awesome."
I guess I hope that increasing the awesomeness in the world will make people's lives better.
Your books don't have overtly Mormon characters in them, but they do contain many recognizable Mormon elements—especially in book three of the Mistborn trilogy, The Hero of Ages. How do you feel that your faith has influenced your writing?
Being an author, the story is what is most important to me. Theme and message are really secondary. I don't go into a book saying, "I'm going to write a book about this." In other words, I don't want to preach with my books. What I want to do is have compelling, realistic characters who care about different things. Some care about religion, others don't. By writing compelling characters who care about issues, I realize that what the characters care about tends to be influenced by what I care about. As for my faith, it is what primarily influences me because it makes me interested in certain topics. For instance, religion does tend to be a theme in my books. Yet if you read Elantris, my first published work, the religious figure was the primary antagonist. People have asked me, "Brandon, you're religious—why are you painting religion so poorly in this book?" And my answer for them is that I'm not painting religion poorly. The misuse of religion is one of the things that scares me the most in life. Someone who is taking faith and twisting it and manipulating it is doing one of the most purely evil things that someone can do, in my opinion.
With the Mistborn books, I wasn't ever trying to be overtly LDS. Yet my values shape who I am and what I determine to be important. I then end up having characters who deal with these same things, and I think there are a lot of LDS things going on. But of course I think there are a lot of Buddhist things going on as well. I served my mission in Korea and have a lot of respect for the Buddhist religion. Because of that, I think some elements of Buddhism show up in my writing. Not because I set out to say, "Okay, I'm going to use Buddhism here," but because it seems to happen when I'm developing a character who cares about something. That's one of the tricks about being a writer.
One of my main goals is that any time I put a character in whose beliefs are different from mine, I want to make sure that I'm making them realistic, that I'm painting their ideas and philosophies as accurately as possible. I think it's important for all authors to make their characters actually feel real and not just portray them as talking heads who are there to learn a lesson. Another author, Robert Jordan, once said that he loved it when his books made people ask questions, but that he didn't want to give them the answers—he believed that they should come up with their own. That's what I try to do, too.
How do your fans react to your being a member of the Church?
It's hard to say because I think most of my fans don't care one way or the other. The vocal ones send me e-mails, though. Occasionally, I get messages from people who say, "Hey, I'm not a member of your faith, but it's cool that you have one, and thanks for writing, and I appreciate your books." I've also received more than several e-mails from LDS people who are very pleased with the books and happy to see an LDS writer who produces works they can enjoy. Sometimes I have received e-mails from people who are not proponents of the LDS faith who challenge me on my beliefs. I'm a debater, but not an arguer, though, and I think the difference is that as a debater, if I feel that my side has been presented adequately, I'm not going to feel bad if people disagree with me. So when I respond to e-mails like that, I say something along the lines of, "Hey, here's why I believe what I do. Here's what the basis of my faith is. Here's why I believe in this doctrine that you are challenging. You don't have to believe in it. Believe what you want. But this is my reasoning." I think I usually have pretty good logic and every time someone has responded to one of my reply e-mails, it's been positive. Most of the time, the person will send something back that says, "You know what, thanks for not actually getting into an argument. I was kind of in a bad mood when I sent that and thank you for being respectful." I think being respectful will get you much further than getting into arguments will. I have had universally good experiences with people reacting to my LDS faith, even on such charged topics.
I am aware that what follows is a flaw in my personality, but hey.
I only recently listened to an Orson Scott Card work (Xenocide). I enjoyed it well enough, but it wasn't until checking the author out on Wikipedia that I became aware of his religion. All of a sudden the book took on a whole new bent for me, and not in a positive way. My mind moved the religious undertones in the story from "slight dig at humanity" to "author is telling me the future isn't much different."
I know I'm wrong to shroud a work of fiction with the author's personal life, but it's where my mind went. And I've yet to pick up another Card novel even though I had intended to run right for Ender's Game.
And now Brandon Sanderson, when I'm halfway into Towers of Midnight? Crickey. I hope I can rise above my pettiness.
I wouldn't say "flaw" really. It IS interesting to me, however, that people have this reaction. It's not uncommon.
A reader can read the Wheel of Time, full of references to all kinds of religions and mythologies, knowing that Robert Jordan was a devout Christian and never think twice about it. They can read of books written by Jewish authors, see factors of Jewish culture and religion in them, and not assume the book is trying to convert them. They just see the Jewish references as an expression of the author's self.
Many read a book by a Mormon, however, and suddenly start reading all kinds of things into it. Perhaps it's the deviant nature (speaking in terms of relating it mainstream religious experiences in most western cultures) of the LDS faith. It's viewed with suspicion because of its outsider nature. Almost with a "they'll try to steal our children" sort of mentality. Or maybe it's the more aggressive nature of the religion when it comes to converts (men in white shirts knocking on the doors) that makes art by these authors be regarded in such a way.
It's quite natural, and I think more an expression of the culture at large than any personal flaw inside you yourself.
If it helps, I can promise that when I write fiction, I'm not trying to "say" anything. I'm trying to tell good stories. Now, if themes start to develop, I'll nurture them—but only in as much as they have direct relationship to the characters and their goals, motives, and directions. And while the characters may find what they believe are answers, I believe it's important for the text itself to NOT seek to give answers to questions like this, but to instead engage in an exploration of themes from multiple strong viewpoints.
tl;dr: Yes, I'm a Mormon, but I'm also a pretty normal dude who just wants to tell good stories. I'm not trying to slip anything into your water, I promise.
To be honest—flaw, failing, or interesting trait—my mind would have made a substitution regardless of the religion (or subset thereof) in question. Different substitutions would have been made—or not—but I can't speak to their nuances. This one is already in the books, so to speak.
You wouldn't call that a flaw, but I do. Shouldn't a work stand on its merit to the reader? Did I enjoy reading it? Yes? Great. I can't help feeling that applying prejudices against an author (of FICTION especially!) to the work is wrong. That's exactly what I did, however. I'm not proud of it. I wonder how often it happens—in both directions.
I don't feel that people are trying to shove things down my throat—in most fiction—but the prejudices of a non-fiction life sometimes get in the way of a great escape. And as with many aspects of society, all are likely wrong.
I hear you. It's actually not just religion. Since I've become part of the community, I've found out the personalities of some authors. It shouldn't change how I view their books, and yet...it does.
Having been on my side of it, I've sometimes raged. Then I've stopped to think "Well, how would you react if you found you were reading a book by a scientologist." Makes me freeze and think about things a little further.
Perhaps there's something to be said for learning nothing about the author of a work until after you've read it in its entirety.
Well considering Science Fiction and Fantasy are the foundations of their entire belief system they probably have a good jumping off point when it comes to fiction.
Ahem. This line comes up pretty much every time that this topic is mentioned. And trust me, it gets mentioned A LOT. Like, every time people find out I'm Mormon and I write fantasy novels, they throw this question at me. I kind of wonder if we're blowing a slight statistical deviation completely out of proportion, and the idea has taken on a life of its own.
However, armchair philosophy is fun. What's an English degree for, if not to make wild conjectures? So, I've got my own theories. You can't get asked this question as many times as I have without devising them.
As MeatSledge points out (in jest, but there's truth to it) basically any religious belief system will be treated like fantasy to an outsider. Particularly an atheist.
However, LDS theology takes a more 'pro-sf' view than some other religions. It is an active and mainstream belief in the religion that there are plenty of inhabited worlds out there. The belief that God is a transcendent (or simply very powerful) man is also a concept that science fiction has played with a lot. (The Swords books by Fred Saberhagen come to mind.) Things like Q and the like from Star Trek deal with this concept: At what point does a hyper-evolved being cross the line into becoming a god when viewed by common men?
My own theories about the LDS penchant for Fantasy/SF has more mundane roots. It has to do with the church's enormous focus on education and reading, and with the idea of 80's nerd and role playing culture being a "safe" counter-culture for imaginative LDS kids who also want to rebel against their parents somewhat.
In short: Yes, MeatSledge, I realize your comment was meant to be an insult. But there's some truth to it anyway. But I think articles like this are generally overblowing something small.
To be honest it was an insult wrapped in my actual thoughts. Not entirely teeth, but not all gum.
The first time I thought about this was way back in high school when my English teacher was Mormon had shelves of Fantasy magazine and every reading project was fantasy related.
It's certainly worth thinking about—things like this bear examination, as we get some real glimpses into what makes us tick.
Though, it occurs to me that those of us who believe the LDS faith could react a little less strongly to insinuations that our belief system is science fiction. I, for one, believe strongly in the power of science—and also accept God as real. The only way I see to reconcile that is to accept that God fits into science, and that what he does is grounded in science, even if we don't know all of the science yet.
So, while I don't think God is fiction, the relationship between my faith and sf shouldn't be insulting.
I think this quote in the article says it all: "Several people have speculated about why Mormons seem to be unusually represented in the science fiction and fantasy genre. Mormon scholar Terryl Givens points to Mormon theology as a possible source for the 'affinity' Mormons have with science fiction in particular and speculative fiction (defined as 'imaginative' or 'non-literary' fiction) in general."
It's not just the Mormons who base their belief system off of fantasy. The Bible is the world's shittiest fantasy novel, and the Quran isn't much better. Need I mention the Scientologists?
You're mistaking (probably intentionally) mythology for fantasy. But it does a disservice to conversations about the genre to do so.
In studying the genre, we have to make the distinction between books written for/by people who are presenting their stories as fact, and those who are intentionally creating a work of fiction. It's the only useful way to discuss, and understand, the fantasy genre.
You can call the Bible lies, if you wish, but not fantasy—as those who wrote it were writing stories they believed were true, and were writing them for people they hoped would believe they were true. To call it lies is also probably using the wrong word, even if you believe the book to be untrue, because the authors very likely believed the stories they wrote. To them, it was history. To you, then, it's not lies or fantasy—it's mythology and inaccurate history.
Mr. Sanderson, I might be doing a disservice to conversations about fantasy by denigrating the Bible as a fantasy novel written by committee that makes The Sword of Shannara look like Nobel prize-winning literature, but I do so not out of disrespect for fantasy or its study, but to mock religion. I'm not a sufficiently militant atheist to want to hijack the machinery of government and trample the First Amendment. I'm happy to call the Bible lies, but fundamentalists are used to being called liars. They're not used to being compared to Scientologists.
In the meantime, I'm surprised to see you on Reddit. I had just read Warbreaker, and am thinking of getting electronic editions of your Mistborn novels next time I get paid. I doubt I'll bother with your efforts to finish The Wheel of Time, but it's not your fault that a few pages of Nynaeve yanking her braid and bitching about men makes me yearn for the days when fantasy casts were sausagefests.
I do think it's a disservice to speak of the Bible as fiction, and not just to fantasy—but to religion as well. (Though, admittedly, I speak as a religious person, so my bias is manifest.) It's not really a straw man, but it is an intentional misrepresentation. It makes it difficult to discuss the thing as it really is.
The Bible isn't fiction, it's nonfiction. Same as an earnest treatise on alchemy written by a practitioner during the 1400s. Now, in your opinion, it's highly flawed nonfiction, without grounding in fact. But calling it fiction is to imply that the authors of the book were intentionally writing stories they knew were not true, and perhaps even were presenting them as not true, which is blatantly false.
And now...I've probably gone way too far in talking about something which wasn't intended to be taken quite as literally as I have. Sorry, I just end up thinking about things like this too much. Occupational hazard, I guess. For what it's worth, I understand that your stated purpose was mockery, which means I should probably just lighten up and stop blabbing.
Either way, thanks for reading.
Mormons and polygamy, question from a non-Mormon.
There are only a handful of (officially registered) Mormons in my country, so I know very little about the religion. Wanting to know more, I've been spending some time on the mormon.org and lds.org websites. It surprised me when I came across a part on polygamy, which stated it was practiced by Mormons before 1890, but no longer allowed now. The reason it was allowed before, is because God commanded Joseph Smith to have multiple wives. Then in 1890, Woodruff had a revelation where he was told to stop the practice of polygamy (you probably already know all of this, but I just want to make sure my views can be corrected if I'm wrong). Whether or not it was actually related to Utah becoming a state isn't relevant to me, I'm just quoting what it says on the site.
Now for my question... I actually asked this on the mormon.org chat as well, but was called a troll and subsequently banned.
What if I or a member of your church has a revelation which commands him to have multiple wives? Would you believe that person, knowing that according to your church it has been commanded in the past? Would you support that person? Or would he, when following God's will, be excommunicated?
It's a valid question. I don't know why you'd be called a troll for it.
There are a few principles at work here, and if you don't mind, I'll build to an answer to your question. I might get a little long winded here; if so, I'm very sorry.
We believe strongly in the concept of personal revelation—in fact, it was a cornerstone of Joseph Smith's ministry. Basically, if God does exist, we feel that the only way to know that is for Him to tell you personally. Otherwise, it's all hearsay.
A lot of that is in line with what was believed by other Christian religions of the time. Even still, in a lot of sects, a 'calling' to teach is an individual thing. To become a preacher or pastor, one needs only a witness from God that you should.
That, however, is one of the points where LDS theology deviates. While we believe in personal witness and revelation, we believe the scope of what you can get a witness for is limited to your sphere of responsibility. In other words, while you can pray and seek direct guidance from God on your life, you cannot go to your neighbor and say "I've had a witness that you should do X, Y, or Z." We don't think God works that way.
There are, however, people who can get guidance for others. It depends on your sphere of responsibility. A parent can get guidance for their children, a bishop for the members of their congregation. (Note: this is within reason. He has responsibility for people's spiritual welfare, but not for other aspects of their lives.)
The prophet—president of the Church—is given responsibility for all members of the Church, and is the only one who has the ability and authority to speak for the church as a whole. We believe he is directly God's mouthpiece on the Earth. And so, he can set Church policy.
So, the answer to your question is this: we believe that God works through organized means. Revelation from God comes in line with things that you have responsibility for. Now, the argument becomes: "In terms of marriage, don't you have responsibility for your own choices?" Yes, you do. However, the prophet has spoken for Church policy, renouncing polygamy as a practice.
An individual doesn't have the right or authority to go against Church policy. (Well, they have the right—they may do as they wish, and anyone may make their own choices.) However, God will not send revelation that contradicts Church doctrine. If He did, there would be total chaos—and no purpose for a Church in the first place.
So if you were to claim God told you to marry multiple wives, it would be the same as if you claimed God told you to start stealing, start your own church, or do anything else expressly against previous commandments. I would not speak on your personal relationship with God, and that is your business. But the Church is within its authority to excommunicate you for such actions, and we would believe what you are doing not to be God's will. (If it were a friend of mine that I trusted, I'd look to God and see what he had to say on the matter.)
On a personal note, personal revelation is a tricky thing, and must be taken with a healthy dose of skepticism. It is an essential part of the Church. As I said, logic dictates (to me, at least) that if there is a God, and he does want you to follow him, he will respond and tell you that directly. But that is basically the purpose of personal revelation, to let an individual know that God is real and to guide in choosing one's philosophy, religion, and goals in life.
Anything beyond that starts to get us into questionable areas. I'm not saying it doesn't happen—it does. But at these points, you have to start asking yourself, "Am I just doing what I want, and pretending I have a divine mandate? Do I REALLY feel this is God's will?" In this, like in all things in life, there's a distinct need to follow the great law of the universe: Be reasonable.
Probably because some people think it's funny to abuse the online chat, which in turn causes false-positives for genuine questions.
The concept of personal revelation is certainly something I can appreciate. These days, religion has often become more a form of indoctrination than something spiritual. I don't know nearly enough about LDS to have an educated opinion on the subject, but still.
Would you say the LDS's views mature over time and are perhaps even culturally bound? It's the only religion I know of that has living prophets, so practices that were acceptable in the past (polygamy, exclusion of black people from priesthood, ...) but are now considered immoral and wrong, may be changed over time. Do you think that in 20-30-40 years, when gay people are perhaps (hopefully) fully accepted by society, LDS will accept them as well? Or maybe even let women become priests?And thanks for the detailed response. It looks like there's a distinct hierarchy involved, which is understandable, though something I am very skeptical of. Especially in combination with personal revelations. Too often have I seen that position of power been abused (in the name of God of course). But again, I don't know enough about LDS to make any claims, nor am I here to turn this into an anti-Mormonism thread.
I'm very sorry to take so long to reply to this, Alfredo_BE. I've been off doing some revisions on a book that is due...well, let's just say I'm late on it. But I did want to reply to this because your questions were so insightful.
I do think it is possible that the LDS Church's views on things like this are culturally bound, and that God is simply waiting for the right time to mainstream gay marriage into the Church. There are some who believe this strongly. I think the chances of it being that way are slim, considering statements released and the such, but it could happen.
There are examples of this all through the history of religion. The apostles telling a slave to return to his master in the New Testament when it is pretty clear that slavery is not a good institution. Blacks being denied the priesthood in the LDS church is another; there are implications that the biases of church members were part of the reason this happened. (Joseph Smith, for example, ordained a black priest—but Brigham Young stopped the practice.)
If you're really interested about how the Church works and who Joseph Smith was, look up the book Rough Stone Rolling on Google book search. It gives a free preview, and you can read through the chapters 12 and 13. This is a biography of Joseph Smith done by a Colombia professor (who is also a church member) which is generally considered—by both LDS and non-LDS sources—the best biography of him.
It's a thick read, though in its favor, a lot of LDS activists think it goes too far in delving into the controversial aspects of his life. While many anti-LDS activists think it doesn't go far enough. It sits happily in the middle, and I found that it didn't pull punches, but was still respectful.
Sorry again for the late reply.
"I know my church has good intentions in this legal debate." Sorry Melanie, but no, they do not. YOU have good intentions and want to believe the best of others, especially those you have known and trusted all your life . . . but no. Their intentions are far, far from good.
I'm not sure I want to stumble into this one. These discussions turn out to be a mess, a lot of the time.
However, I've found that Reddit is often populated by those curious about both sides of an argument. For the record, here are some official statements from the Church regarding Gay Marriage.
Some highlights: "We join our voice with others in unreserved condemnation of acts of cruelty, or attempts to belittle or mock any group or individual that is different—whether those differences arise from race, religion, mental challenges, social status, sexual orientation, or for any other reason. Such actions simply have no place in our society.
This church has felt the bitter sting of persecution and marginalization early in our history, when we were too few in numbers to adequately protect ourselves and when society's leaders often seemed disinclined to help. Our parents, our young adults, teens and children should therefore, of all people, be especially sensitive to the vulnerable in society and be willing to speak out against bullying or intimidation whenever it occurs, including unkindness towards those who are attracted to others of the same sex. This is particularly so in our own Latter-day Saint congregations. Each Latter-day Saint family and individual should carefully consider whether their attitudes and actions to others properly reflect Jesus Christ's second great commandment—to love one another."
And also: "This is much bigger than just a question of whether or not society should be more tolerant of the homosexual lifestyle. Over past years we have seen unrelenting pressure from advocates of that lifestyle to accept as normal what is not normal, and to characterize those who disagree as narrow-minded, bigoted and unreasonable. Such advocates are quick to demand freedom of speech and thought for themselves, but equally quick to criticize those with a different view and, if possible, to silence them by applying labels like "homophobic". In at least one country where homosexual activists have won major concessions, we have even seen a church pastor threatened with prison for preaching from the pulpit that homosexual behavior is sinful. Given these trends, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints must take a stand on doctrine and principle. This is more than a social issue—ultimately it may be a test of our most basic religious freedoms to teach what we know our Father in Heaven wants us to teach."
So I finally read Ender's Game. Not really sure what the big deal is.
I found the book okay and easy to read, but not very interesting. There really wasn't much science in the fiction and I thought the whole thing was kind of silly and filled with juvenile revenge fantasies. I tried to start the Speaker of the Dead but stopped pretty quickly after reading that in 3000 years there will still be people who believe in the zombie Jesus fable not to mention that Portuguese will survive pretty much intact.
Also, I discovered separately that Orson Scott Card is batshit insane and I am very glad I borrowed the book from the library instead of buying it.
tl;dr Didn't think Ender's Game was very good and don't see what the hubbub is all about.
I've got enough comment karma that I can risk some downvotes. The reason for the "hubbub" is that most people read it at a young age (say 10 to 12). From a young boy's perspective, it is a book that can be identified with on a near mystical level. It creates an "aha" moment that someone actually gets the way they feel. But for someone reading it for the first time as an adult, it is really not a big deal.
That is the conclusion I have come to now as well. I am surprised that it won the awards it did though, presumably with adults voting in favor. Though if I had read it as a 10 year old, I imagine I would have identified greatly with the book, and not noticed most/all of the odd morality, as well as the thinly veiled pedo bear fantasy scenes.
The reason I finally read it now is that I came across a greatest SF novels list and Ender's Game came in at #1. I suppose there are many adults who still remember it very fondly from when they read it as children, but it still is something that I don't get.
It is one of the few books to win both the Hugo award and the Nebula award. (The two most prestigious science fiction book awards.) Yes, those were voted by adults; many of those votes would have come from the prominent science fiction writers of the day. (The Nebula, for instance, is voted on only by professional sf/fantasy writers.)
The reason to this has nothing to do with people having read it as children and being fond of it. I'm sorry. It is easy to dismiss a book you didn't care for for reasons such as the ones you speak of above, but I fear you stray into making an error of assumption—the assumption your taste will be like the taste of others.
There is nothing wrong with not liking Ender's Game. Acclaim like this is really just a stamp saying "There's a better chance that you'll like this than something else, but no promises." There are people who dislike Hamlet. There are people—intelligent people with good educations—who dislike the books you think are the greatest. This does not make you a fool, nor does it make them a fool. A great many things play into taste.
For what it's worth, the book is generally acclaimed for a couple of reasons. First, for giving an interesting look at what society might do to children by forcing maturity upon them too early, and by turning them into warriors. Second, because of a well played twist ending. Third, because of strength of narrative pacing.
Also, with relativistic travel in play, having linguistic enclaves thousands of years in the future isn't at all unreasonable, particularly with the stabilizing force modern communication has exerted on language shifts. Beyond that, these books are social science fiction—they aren't really trying to predict the future, no more than 1984 was trying to predict the future.
They are about exploring the human condition when different (and often extreme) pressures are placed upon them. Looking at how religion would deal with space travel and alien species is a way of writing about who we are.
Hope I'm still in time! In London, I forgot to ask: why do you so often include some sort of religious government in so many of your worlds? Is it something that comes from looking at how history developed on Earth, or do you think your religious faith influences the way you write/worldbuild? Thank you very much!
There are a lot of reasons. One is because it happened that way so often in our world. Another is my fascination with religion, and wanting to explore what people do with it. The biggest one, however, is related to how I worldbuild. I like things to be very interconnected, as I think that's how real life is. So, when I build a religion, I ask myself what its political ties are, as well as its relationship with things like the magic, economics, and gender roles of the culture.