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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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So, this chapter gets the grand prize for most edited and revised chapter in the book. There are other chapters that have more new material—but only because they were added in completely after the original draft. This chapter, good old chapter two, was the one that underwent the most tweaks, face-lifts, additions, and edits during the ten drafts I did of ELANTRIS.
And, I think poor little Sarene is the cause of it.
You could say that she played havoc with the book in much the same way she did with Hrathen, Iadon, and Raoden in the story.
As I worked on the novel, Sarene as a character took on a much more dominant role in the plot than I had intended. Perhaps it's because she's the intermediary between the other two characters, or maybe it's because I liked her best of the three characters. Either way, in my mind, this book is about Sarene. She's the catalyst, the force of change.
In the end, she's the one that provides the solutions to both Raoden and Hrathen's problems. She gives Raoden the hint he needs to fix ELANTRIS, and she gives Hrathen the moment of courage he needs in order to turn against Dilaf.
In this chapter, we first get to see some of the scars that Hrathen is hiding. Part of what makes him such a compelling character, I think, is the fact that he considers, questions, and seriously examines his own motivations. The things he did in Duladel are a serious source of guilt to him, and his determination to do what is right—even if what is 'right' to him isn't necessarily what we would consider right—gives him a strength of character and personality that is hard to resist.
He combines with this sincerity an actual force of logic. He's correct in his examination of Arelon. It has serious problems. It has weak leadership, weak military forces, and a weak economy. Hrathen's logical explanations in this chapter of why he feels justified in trying to overthrow the government should sound fairly convincing.
On the other hand, we have his whole 'Tyranny in three easy steps' discussion with Dilaf. It's this sense of twisted goodness that rounds out his personality as a villain. He's not just earnest, he's not just logical—he also has an edge of ruthlessness. That's a very dangerous combination in a character.
Speaking of the "I will show you the way to destroy a nation line," this concept—that line, actually—was one of the first things I came up with in my mind while imagining Hrathen. The way that he logically approaches something that would seem daunting—even impossible—to an outsider is a strong part of what defines who he is. I also really enjoy finding opportunities to show how Hrathen sees the world. Whenever I place him on the Elantris city wall and let him inspect the defensibility of the city, I give a clue as to how he was trained, and how he thinks. I don't believe that Sarene ever pauses to consider just how weakly fortified the city of Kae is—but Hrathen thinks about it on at least three separate occasions.
The economy of Arelon is one of the interesting features of this book. Even still, I'm not certain if I made things a little too odd here. The idea of nobility being tied directly to money is described so often by the characters that I worry that readers will think the system too foolish to have arisen. However, I think that by establishing the king as a former merchant—and by pointing out how the system was created quickly, to fill the void after the fall of Elantris—I manage to keep the economic and social situation in Arelon within the realm of possibility.
I think that too often fantasy writers are content with simply throwing in a slightly-original spin on magic—ignoring the fact that their cultures, governments, and religions are derivative. There is this idea of the 'general' fantasy world, and writers draw upon it. However, I think an interesting cultural element can be just as fascinating—and as useful to the plot—as an interesting magic system. In the best cases, the two are inter-woven, like what one can find in brilliant genre books like DUNE.
Of course, the strange economic/governmental system of the book is only a descendant of another strange economic/governmental system. Sarene and Lukel discuss a few of the problems presented by having a race of people who can create whatever they want through use of magic. I don't get to deal with that aspect of AonDor very much in this particular book, since the novel is set during a time when the magic of Elantris doesn't work. However, there are a lot of interesting ramifications AonDor would present for a book set during Elantris' heyday. What good is gold if someone can create it from nothing? In fact, what good is a monetary system at all when everyone can have as much food as they want? What need is there for invention or ingenuity in the face of a group of people who can re-create any good, no matter how complex, with a mere flick of the magical wrist?
The truth behind the Elantrian magical abilities is far more limited than Sarene or Lukel acknowledge in this chapter. If one were to go back fifteen years, one would find that the Elantrians who had the skill to fabricate complex materials 'out of nothing' were actually quite rare.
As we learn later in the book, AonDor is a very complicated, difficult skill to master. As I was writing this book, I imagined the complicated Aons that Raoden eventually learns how to draw being only springboards to massive equations that could take weeks to plan out and write. Fabricating something very complex would require a great deal of detail in the AonDor recipe.
Even still, I think the tension between the Elantrians and the merchants is a natural out-growth of this situation.
Yes, okay. I'll admit it. I started a chapter with a dream sequence. However, if you didn't realize that it was a dream before you got to the end, they you obviously haven't been paying much attention to the rest of the book. It's usually good advice to avoid dream sequences. It's particularly a good idea to avoid flashback dream sequences at the beginning of your novel. I did it anyway. The truth is, I liked what this scene did too much to cut it. My purpose was not to 'fake out' or confuse—but simply to show some things that would be otherwise impossible to show in the novel.
I wanted to show AonDor working without Elantris' current limitations. The only way to do this—to really show this, rather than just describe it—was to have a flashback. So, I gave Raoden the dream where he able to remember the days before the fall of Elantris. You'll notice that I refer back to this dream several times through the chapter, using it as an example of several things Raoden considers.
I mention the Outer Cities here with the beggars. Actually, the main reason I put them in was to give myself another excuse to mention the Outer Cities. Throughout the books progress, I've been worried that people wouldn't understand the ending climax. In order to get what is going on with Aon Rao, they need to understand the geography of the cities around Elantris. Hopefully, I describe it well enough that it comes off.
Raoden is an expert at manipulating his surroundings. This doesn't make him 'manipulative,' in my mind. (You can read about a REAL manipulator in my next book.) Raoden simply knows how to take what he is given and make the best from them. In a way, this is the soul of creativity. Raoden is like a master composer or an artist—except, where they take images or sounds and combine them to suit their needs, he takes the situation and adapts it to create something useful. Outside of Elantris, he took his father's edicts and turn them against the man. However, thrown into a terrible situation like the pit of Elantris, Raoden really has an opportunity to shine.
He's kind of like a magic unto himself. I've known people a little like him in this world—people who can defy convention and reality, and just make things work. Somehow, Raoden can make three out of two. He can take the pieces and combine them in new ways, creating something greater than most people thought possible.
In short, he's the perfect hero for this kind of book. When I was writing ELANTRIS in the winter of 1999 and spring of 2000, I was finishing up my undergraduate degree at BYU. The book I'd written before it was called THE SIXTH INCARNATION OF PANDORA—undoubtedly the strangest, most-un-Brandon-like book I've ever constructed. PANDORA was a SFstory about a man made immortal though careful—and expensive—application of nanotechnology. The process slowly drove him mad.
PANDORA was a dark, grisly book. The man character could withstand alarming injuries without dying. One prime theme of the novel was dealing with the psyche of a man who could slaughter thousands of people while being shot to pieces, then find himself reconstructed a short time later. It was a rather violent book—probably the most disturbing I've ever written.
When I got done with that book, I reacted against it by wanting to devise a plot that didn't depend at all on violence. ELANTRIS was the result. I wanted to tell a story about a hero who could succeed without having to beat up on the people who opposed him. I took away his physical abilities and his royal resources, leaving him with only his wits and his determination.
Some people have noted to me that it seems strange to them that Elantris only fell ten years before the start of the book. It seems to them that the legends make it seem older, more removed. This is actually intentional. I wanted it to be difficult to remember, at times, that it has only been ten years since the majestic city fell.
Just like Elantris is crumbling far more quickly than should have been possible, it is passing into legend far faster than people might have thought. Part of this is due to the power of rumors and stories in a land without the ability to provide archival visual records (i.e., film.) Part of it, however, is the Elantris 'mystery.' Something very bad happened, and nobody understands it. In a way, the entire country has been left with a hole inside of its soul, now that Elantris is gone.
By the way. Yes, the line 'Its sprit has fled' was intended as another little pun off of the then title of the book 'THE SPIRIT OF ELANTRIS.'
"The Shadow of Elantris." These section headings were added in the last real draft I did, while I was visiting my father in Massachusetts during the summer of '04. By then, the book's title had firmly been changed from THE SPIRIT OF ELANTRIS to just ELANTRIS. I knew I needed to divide the book into sections, and decided that I'd use "The Spirit of Elantris" as the final heading, as kind of a nod to the original title of the book. This presented me with several problems, however. First, I needed two more good sub-headings to go along with 'The Spirit of Elantris.' Second, I needed to find good places to divide the chapters. Because of the chapter triad system, I'd probably need to base my dramatic section cuts on Hrathen's chapters, since he came third in the rotation.
The Shadow of Elantris came easily as a title. It, of course, has reference to the first chapter, where Raoden looks out the window and feels like Elantris is looming over him. However, it's also a nice summary of the first section. Elantris looms over everything, dark and dirty, during the first section of the book. While we see the beginnings of light from Raoden's efforts in the city, they don't really come to much fruition.
If we throw out the nostalgia factor 'Spirit' has going for itself, 'Shadow' is my favorite of the three section titles.
Now that the three gangs have been dealt with, Raoden's storyline has had some major resolutions. The increasing pain of his wounds, however, is something I introduced into the book for fear that he wouldn't have enough pressing conflicts. As stated in previous annotations, his personality is uniquely strong and stable amongst characters I've created, and I figured that giving him a small problem in the area of self-confidence wouldn't be remiss. He feels that he's worse at deal with the pain than everyone else, and that makes him worry that he isn't the leader he should. We'll have more on this later.
My explanation for the slime, admittedly, relies a bit heavily on 'fantasy writer's license.' Usually, I resist overdoing things like this. (I.e., simply explaining away events in the world with magical answers.) Though there is a slight logic to Raoden's explanation, it isn't something that would have been intuitive to a reader, given the facts of the novel. That makes it a weak plotting element. However, the slime explanation isn't part of any real plot resolution, so I decided to throw it in. Its place as an interesting world element, rather than a climax, gives me a few more liberties, I think.
One interesting note about this book is how small the armies are. Often in books, I'll deal with armies in the tens and hundreds of thousands. Those, however, tend to be war epics—it makes sense to me that in ELANTRIS, they're talking about hundreds of men, rather than thousands. This may seem like a ridiculous number for a defense force, but I imagine Arelon being a small country, quite isolated and—as noted in the text—rather innocent. They really only need policing forces.
My copy editor was worried about my use of the word 'legion,' actually, for Eondel's personal force. She said that a legion, dictionary wise, was usually much larger. While this may be true, I think the fact that they call it "Eondel's Legion" makes it a proper noun, and is usable. This is a kind of honorary title, rather than a descriptive name. Besides, in Arelon, a couple hundred men really is quite big.
This chapter is supposed to be something of a small redemption for Iadon. First off, we have his proclamation, which gives validity to his structure of rule. I think everything in the Arelish government makes a lot more sense now that we understand why Iadon did what he did.
The second bit of redemption comes at the burial site, where Sarene watches the barrow being built. Her thoughts don't excuse what Iadon did, but I hope they give something of an explanation. I like this scene because of the way it feels—there is a reverence about it which gives the proper atmosphere for a funeral.
Originally, I had the steps leading up to Elantris from the outside be a construction put there by the people of Kae. I knew I wanted a large number of scenes on the wall—it is such a dominant visual feature of the book that I thought it would make a good stage for scenes. However, I quickly realized that it would be the people of Kae—not the Elantrians—who controlled the wall. The Elantris City Guard grew from this idea, as did the set of steps constructed on the outside, leading up.
As I worked more and more on the book, however, I came to realize that the pre-Reod Elantrians wouldn't have needed a city wall for protection.
Obviously, to those who've read more, there is a good Aon-based reason for the wall. However, there is more to it than that, as well.
The wall of the city is a symbol—it's part of the city's majesty. As such, it made more and more sense that there would be plenty of ways to get up on top of it.
When we got the cover art back from Stephen, we were amazed by its beauty. A few things, however, didn't quite mesh with the text. One of these was the set of steps—they were so ornate, so beautiful, that it didn't fit that they would have been designed by the people of Kae. At that point, things kind of fell together, and I realized that there was no reason why the Elantrians themselves wouldn't have put a large staircase outside the city leading up to the wall.
And so, in the final rewrite of the book (the ninth draft) I changed the staircase, and the general feel of the wall, to give the proper sense to the reader. The staircase was placed by the Elantrians as a means of getting up on top the wall. The wall itself became less a fortification, and more a wonder—like the Eiffel Tower. It is there to be climbed and experienced.
This scene where Raoden and Sarene meet on equal grounds is, I hope, something that people have been waiting for. I intended the moment when Sarene lets Raoden take her hand to be a major event in the book. The phrase 'For the first time' (I.e., she took his hand for the first time) was added at Moshe's suggestion. I'm personally not as fond of it as I could be—my opinion is often times, making a passage shorter actually emphasizes it more. However, I wasn't so set on those four words that I insisted on not putting them in.
These two chapters—forty and forty-one—are another sequential pair in a triad, like I did before. I wanted to push out of Raoden's viewpoint as quickly as possible here, because he's already seen Elantris and New Elantris. In these scenes, Sarene's view of things will be more fresh—and therefore more interesting. She can experience some parts of Elantris for the first time, and we can enjoy her realization and discovery.
Originally, when Raoden and Galladon got to the top of the stairwell, they hacked their way through the door with Seolin's sword. When I got to this point, I'd completely forgotten that I'd already established that there was at least one axe in Elantris. In the rewrite, I put that in instead.
By the way, there is a little foreshadowing in this chapter. Raoden's ability to draw with a stick or a quill to do his Aons is very important, obviously. Some people still have trouble what is going on at the climax of the book, and so I found constant need to incorporate explanations and hints where I could to foreshadow events.
Aons are an interesting part of this book—perhaps my favorite of the world elements. If you think about the system I've set up, you'll realize some things. First, the Aons have to be older than the Aonic language. They're based directly off of the land. So, the lines that make up the characters aren't arbitrary. Perhaps the sounds associated with them are, but the meanings—at least in part—are inherent. The scene with Raoden explaining how the Aon for 'Wood' includes circles matching the forests in the land of Arelon indicates that there is a relationship between the Aons and their meanings. In addition, each Aon produces a magical effect, which would have influenced its meaning.
The second interesting fact about the Aons is that only Elantrians can draw them. And Elantrians have to come from the lands near Arelon. Teoish people can be taken, but only if they're in Arelon at the time. Genetically, then, the Teos and the Arelenes must be linked—and evidence seems to indicate that the Arelenes lived in the land first, and the Teos crossed the sea to colonize their peninsula.
Only Elantrians can draw Aons in the air, so someone taken by the Shaod must have developed the writing system. That is part of what makes writing a noble art in Arelon—drawing the Aons would have been associated with Elantrians. Most likely, the early Elantrians (who probably didn't even have Elantris back then) would have had to learn the Aons by trial and error, finding what each one did, and associating its meaning and sound with its effect. The language didn't develop, but was instead 'discovered.'
There are likely Aons that haven't even been found yet.
I hope that Dilaf's explanations about his past are suitably creepy. I also hope they give some explanation. He is a man who betrayed his religion when he thought it would save the woman he loved—only to find himself, in turn, betrayed by the Elantrians. His wife became Hoed, and he himself burned her. This would have something of an effect on a man's psyche, I think.
Now, recall that Elantris was at the height of its power when Dilaf took his wife in to be healed. I mentioned her earlier in the book, in a Raoden chapter. He found a story in one of his textbooks about a woman who was improperly-healed, and it turned her into what the Elantrians now are. This is Dilaf's wife. (Go re-read Chapter Twenty-Five for the story.) I find this little item beautifully circular.
Anyway, we now have an explanation for Dilaf's instability and his hatred. I really like how Dilaf, normatively, grows into being the prime villain for this book. He comes to it slowly, kind of stealthily, while the reader is focusing on Hrathen. Yet, Dilaf is there from the first Hrathen chapter, always dangerous, always trying to destroy Elantris, always making his own plans. I worked hard to bring about his rise to power in the book, and I hope that it worked. Puling off the Dilaf/Hrathen reversal was one of my main goals in the story.
So, this moment—where Raoden is nearly dead, looking down on the cities, and finally makes the connection—was one of the scenes that made me want to write this book. In each novel I write, I have some important scenes in my mind. They're like. . .focuses for the novel. They're the places I know I need to get, and they're usually very dynamic in my mind. In a way, I tell the rest of the story just so I can make my way to these moments.
This book had two main Moments for me. We haven't gotten to the second yet, but this is the first. I hope that you, the reader, arrived at the realization just as Raoden did. I've had a lot of trouble getting this balance right. Some readers figured out the secret early, while others (the larger group) didn't even understand what's going on in this chapter.
If it requires explanation, Raoden is thinking about Aon Rao. Then he notices that Elantris and the cities around it form a pattern—the exact pattern of Aon Rao. The cities form an Aon on the ground. At this moment, Raoden realizes why Elantris fell, and why the Elantrians went with it. If you haven't figured it out yet, I won't spoil it for you.
Now, perhaps, you see why I was worried that I had Raoden too far up on the slope. In order for the plot to work, I had to get him down to the city in a hurry so that he could draw the Chasm Line.
If you think about pacing a little bit as you read this chapter, you'll see that a lot more time is passing between sections than I'm implying by the quick cuts. It probably takes Raoden a good twenty minutes of running to get down that mountain. Fortunately, I've established that Elantrians don't get out-of-breath.
He also runs, dragging the stick, longer than I imply. I think the pacing here is important to keep up the tension. However, if you draw the line, you'll see that he had to cross a good distance of land while dragging his stick.
Yes, Raoden lets the Dakhor monks go. That's the sort of thing that happens in this book. If you want something more gritty, you can read MISTBORN. (Which is gritty for me, though nowhere near the genius sadism of George R. R. Martin's books.)
I like having this scene from Lukel's viewpoint. If nothing else were gained from his other sections, I think the scene of the Elantrians emerging from the flames would be enough to justify his viewpoints in these last few chapters.
So, anyway, that's one major plot line finished. Elantris has been restored. Most fantasies, however, are about characters more they are about plot. I love great twists and revelations—but the book isn't over until the characters are fulfilled. So, onward.
Elantris is like a massive power conduit. It focuses the Dor, strengthening its power (or, rather, the power of the Aons to release it) in Arelon. This far away from Elantris, however, the Aons are about as powerful as they were before Raoden fixed Elantris.
If you consider it, it makes logical sense that the Aons would be tied to ELANTRIS and Arelon, yet would work without them. The Aons had to exist before Elantris—otherwise, the original Elantrians wouldn't have known the shape to make the city. Their study of AonDor taught them a method for amplifying Aon power.
You'll notice, therefore, that I pile on the lose threads here. The most important one, of course, is the concept that Fjorden has gained access to the Dor (presumably recently.) The Dakhor are a newer development—Wyrn was just getting ready to use them against Elantris when the city fell on its own. (Dilaf wasn't the only Dakhor plant inside Arelon. But, those are stories for another time.) Anyway, I think I gave myself plenty of sequel room here. There are the questions about the Dor, about Fjorden, and about the Seons.
That said, I can't honestly promise that I'll do an ELANTRIS sequel. When I was writing during this period of my life (some seven years ago now), I was trying to create as many first books as possible. I was sending them all off to publishers, trying to get someone to bite on one of them so I could start a series. However, since I was a nobody, I had to write each book as a stand-alone as well. Publishers, I was told, like to get books from new authors that could stand alone or launch into a series. That way, they're not committing to anything drastic, but can monopolize on popularity if it comes.
ELANTRIS turned out to be one of the best stand-alones I did. I kind of like how it doesn't really need anything more to make it feel complete. And, I've got so many stories that I want to tell, I don't know that I'll be able to get back to this one. I guess it will depend upon how well ELANTRIS sells, and whether or not Tor pushes me toward writing more books in this world.
Anyway, I've got plenty of things I could talk about if I do come back.