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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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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.)
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.
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.
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.