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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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I'm a very sequential writer. When I write a book, I usually start with the prologue and write straight through until I hit the epilogue. Though I can't remember for certain, I'm pretty sure that this prologue was the first thing I ever wrote for Elantris.
Back in those days, I didn't outline as much as I do now. When I first put fingers to keyboard, I really didn't know where this book was going to go. I had some vague idea of what I wanted it to be, but I didn't know how I was going to get there. However, this prologue really helped solidify things for me.
I love how it works in the story. It's quick, descriptive, and gives a marvelous outline of the magical setting of the book. It's also one of the most heavily-edited sections of the book. Moshe didn't like my original draft of it because he thought it was over-written. The original first line of the book was 'Whispered are the days when Elantris was beautiful.' I kind of still like this line better, but it may just be nostalgia. The line kind of has a faint. . .flowing quality to it. An etherealness.
Regardless, 'Elantris was beautiful, once' made for a nice compromise. I'll probably post the entire, first-draft version of the prologue in the 'deleted scenes' section of the website, if you want to compare.
Despite my preference for the old first line, I like the other changes we made to the prologue. Over all, it became more descriptive and easier to understand. It's a nice springboard to the story, and we've used it several places as a kind of quick teaser to get people to read the book.
Another interesting thing about this book, however, is that the setting includes a mixture of magical wonder itself—kind of as a balancing factor to the fact that we don't get to see the Aons doing anything. I think the problems associated with being an Elantrian, mixed with the interesting setting inside of the city, create an interesting magical ambiance for the book, one that Seons serve to heighten.
This chapter, which Raoden and Galladon crouching atop the rooftop and watching for newcomers, reminds me of the early days of conceiving this novel. The seed for ELANTRIS actually came several years before I got around to writing the book. I knew that I wanted to tell the story of a brutal city filled with people who has some sickness that kept them from dying.
One of the initial scenes that came to my mind was that of the main character crouching atop a low building, watching the gates to the city. The gates open, and a newcomer is thrown in. At the same time, one of the wretches inside the city snaps—finally giving into his pain, and going mad. This man madly rushes toward the gates, trying to escape. The city guards—who don't have the disease—throw massive spears at the man rushing the gates. One of the spears hits him, piercing him all the way through.
However, it's quickly explained that the spear wasn't meant to kill, for the man continues to struggle weakly, despite being impaled. However, the spear is so big and bulky that the poor creature can't move any more—obviously, the weapons are intended to slow and immobilize, not kill. After all, the inhabitants of this city can't be killed. The man gives up struggling, and lays their limply, whimpering with the massive spear stuck through his chest.
At the same time, another sick one approaches the main character. "—Insert name— went mad last night," he whispers to the main character. "You are now the eldest." Meaning, of course, that the main character is now the person who's been in the city the longest without having gone mad.You should be able to see the evolution of this scene in the story that I eventually told. Many of the concepts are the same, though I changed the viewpoint character from a person who had been in the city for a long time to a newcomer who still had his optimism. I also shifted much of the focus of the novel to what was happening outside the city, adding the two other viewpoint characters. However, this scene still remains in my mind—it's actually the only real scene I can remember from the very early days of planning ELANTRIS. As an homage to it, I left in the large, bulky spears carried by the Elantris City Guards. Hrathen mentions them in the previous chapter. Though the guards no longer carry them for the same purpose—indeed, the guard probably wouldn't even know what to do with them in case of an attack—I thought this little inside reference to be an interesting one.
The scene where the children talk about art is one I nearly cut from the book on a couple of different occasions. I worry that this is one of the scenes that contributes overly-much to the 'Kiin's family is out of place' feeling that people occasionally get. In addition, I worry that I made Kaise TOO intelligent here. Three things make me retain the scene. First, I think it's kind of amusing. The second is a spoiler, so I won't say much on it—just let it suffice that I wanted to give Kaise and Daorn some good characterization. -
For you spolier readers, those two would be the main characters of any sequel I wrote to ELANTRIS. I'd set the book about ten years after the ending of this one.
The third reason for retaining the scene is because I put it in, in the first place, quite intentionally. Kaise, and to a lesser extent Daorn, are a small reaction against ENDER'S GAME. When I read that book, and some of Scott's other works (which, by the way, I think are all brilliant) I got to wondering if children who were as smart as his really would act the way they do in his books. Not to disagree with one of the greatest sf minds of our time, but I wanted to take a different spin on the 'clever child' idea. So, I presented these children as being extremely intelligent, but also extremely immature with that intelligence. I'm not convinced that IQ brings maturity with it, and think there's only so much 'adult' you can have in a kid. So, I put in Kaise and Daorn to let me play with this idea a little bit in ELANTRIS.
Are the Elantrians zombies? I've been asked this question before. The answer is a little bit yes, a little bit no. I very intentionally don't make any references in the story to them being zombie-like, and I certainly don't call them 'undead.' Both words bring a lot of baggage with them.
No, the Elantrians aren't 'zombies.' However, they certainly would fit the standard fantasy definition of being 'undead.' After all, their bodies aren't really alive, but they can think. Still, I resist comparisons to established fantasy traditions. I wanted the Elantrians to be their own genre of creatures. In the world I have created, they are simply 'Elantrians.' They are people who don't need to eat, whose bodies only function on a marginal level, and whose pains never go away. For the function they fill in the world and the story, I'd rather that they be compared to lepers.
That said, I always have wanted to do a story with a zombie as a main character.
I certainly didn't want this book to turn into a political statement about female-empowerment. I think that sort of thing has been overdone in fantasy—the woman in an oppressive masculine world seeking to prove that she can be just as cool as they are. However, I did have to deal with some cultural issues in ELANTRIS. There's no getting around the fact that Sarene is a strong female character, and I think it would be unrealistic not to address some of this issues this creates with the men around her.
I actually used several women I know as a model for Sarene. I've often heard women say that they feel like men find an assertive, intelligent woman threatening. I suspect that there some strong foundations for feelings like this, though I would hope the men in question form a small percentage of the population. Still, I do think that it is an issue.
In my own culture, people tend to get married early. This is partially due to the LDS Church's focus on families and marriage, and partially because I've lived mostly in the west and mid-west—where I think that the general attitude is more traditional than it is in big cities. Because of this, I've seen a number of people—many of them women—complain about how they feel excluded from society because they're still single. Sarene's own insecurity is related to the real emotions I've seen in some of my friends.
However, I do have to point out that some of the reactions Sarene gets aren't because she's female—they're just because she's bull-headed. She tends to give too much stock to the fact that she's a woman, assuming that the resistance she receives is simply based on gender. I think a man with her personality, however, would encounter many of the same problems. The way she pushes Roial into a corner in this chapter is a good example. In my mind, she handled things in the kitchen quite well—but not perfectly. She still has some things to learn, some maturing to do.
You'll notice the quick mention of the Widow's Trial in this chapter. This sub-plot was actually added later in the drafting process, and I had to come back and write these comments into this scene. It will become apparent why later on.
Though, you spoilers already know how it is used. I needed to get Sarene into Elantris somehow, and I wasn't certain how I was going to do it. Somewhere along the way I devised the idea of the Widow's Trial. In the end, it worked quite well, as it provided the means for Raoden to create New Elantris.
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.)
Some other small notes. First, the proverb about the Lion. It's actually a Korean proverb, one which always stood out to me because it was almost identical to our proverb 'Speak the name of the devil, and he will appear,' referring to someone who arrives right when you were talking about them. The Korean version says "If you say the name of the tiger, he will appear." I embellished this a bit with use of my handy creative licence, and you get what we have here.
Actaully, from what I've seen, you'd be surpised at how many proverbs span cultures. They may sound a little different, but the meanings are often very similar.
And, in Kaise's 'Why did YOU have to get sick,' line, you can see a remnant of the cut scene I talked about in the last Sarene chapter. Kaise and Daorn were supposed to be able to go with Sarene into the city, and when I got to this scene, I thought I'd forgotten to add them. So, I came up with the sickness excuse. This was actually an error on my part, since this triad is actually happening several days after the last triad, and the twins got their permission to go with Sarene for the 'next day.' Therefore, their trip into Elantris would have happened during the intervening days.
Kaise's comment, however, seemed like a nice little nod to things happening in the world off-stage. Things like this give a nice feel to a book, so I left it in—despite the fact that the original scene it was tied to got cut early on.
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.
"Hama," Galladon's word for grandmother, is actually another theft from the real world. One of my cousins has a little son who calls his grandmother 'Hama,' and I always thought it was a cute nickname. The really funny one, however, is when he refers to my grandmother—his great-grandmother. She's Big Hama. (In keeping with this tradition, Sarene's childhood nickname for Kiin is 'Hunkey Kay,' a child's version of 'Uncle Kiin.' This is a spin off of what that same little kid in the real world calls my mother. She's 'Hunky BaBa,' or 'Aunt Barbara.')
What did I warn you about we writers and filching things?
So, in this chapter we get to have a nice look at the 'mathematical' style to AonDor. To be honest, I'm not really a math person. I did well in my classes, but I never pursued the skill long enough to get deeply into theoretics. That's why there aren't any specifics in these chapters—I try to give enough to imply that AonDor works like mathematical proofs, but I don't include any specific ratios or equations.
My goal was to get across the 'Feel' of the magic without actually having to get into number crunching—which is something at which Raoden's much better than I am. (Though, it's less numbers and more of an understudying of length, location, and combination.)
Joshua absolutely hates it when I use plots like this.
I don't know why I insist on putting things like this (mistaken identities, people pretended to be someone else, that kind of plot) into my books. I think, deep down, I've got a weakness for old-school Shakespearean farces. Storytelling is just more fun when people can do a bit of pretending.
Anyway, I'd been wanting to show a real Dula ever since I started writing the book. Galladon is such a 'bad' Dula that I was very pleased when I found an opportunity to work Kaloo into the plot. You've been hearing, through various asides, about Dulas for most of the book. Now you actually get to meet one. Or, at least, someone pretending to be one. (Uh. . .I hope I'm not giving anything away by letting you know that Kaloo is really Raoden. It wasn't supposed to be a surprise.)
Anyway, we'll get an explanation from Raoden later about why he didn't come clean immediately. If he were truthful, however, he'd have to admit something: Though he sometimes teases Sarene for being too fond of political games, he likes them just as much as she does. The opportunity for him to meet her for the third time for the first time was just too tempting to pass up.
3) Some of the cultures in ELANTRIS were based, obviously, on ones from our world. (JinDo, Duladel.) Others were developed specifically for the book. (The Elantris society, most of Fjordell society.) Which culture felt the most real to you, and why?