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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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My next question was a random idea I had based on the answer about entities living primarily in the cognitive realm given here. I asked (stupidly, you'll see why in a second): "Could it be that spren and seons are basically very similar things?"
He smiled, thought about how to answer that for a second and then said... "Yes, it could be."
I very much got the impression that I was correct though, but I gave him the perfect opening to appreciate the question without answering it at all. Stupid me. I explained that I had the idea that seons exist primarily as cognitive entities with smaller presences in the physical world, while spren are primarily spiritual, also with smaller presences in the physical world. He just smiled for a second, and I said I'd take that as a possible yes and let him get back to signing books for the awesome Waterstone's in Manchester. I'm writing up my thoughts on that in this post.
The language metaphor I use in this chapter is one of my favorites in the book. Hrathen's attitude can be quickly summed up in the way that he decides it is all right to preach to the people in their own language. He admits that he probably shouldn't do such a thing, but the logical justification is just too strong for him to deny.
I've spoken earlier about how fantasy books tend to place modern-like characters in more archaic settings. The Seons in this book are one of my rationalizations for the way that people act. I believe that a lot of our civility and maturity as a global culture comes from our ability to communicate quickly and effectively with one another.
Instantaneous communication changes the world. It makes countries seem less distant, and it allows for faster resolution of problems. Often times, when I'm creating a magic system, this idea is one of the first that I consider. Can this magic provide for instant communication or travel? If it can, I can use that to shrink the world, allowing me to place characters in more distant settings and still have them tied to the plot. (This isn't something I have to do often in this particular book. However, the ability to communicate with Wyrn and Sarene's father does have the effect of shrinking the world, making it easier to plot such drastic events in such a short period of time.)
I didn't originally intend for Hrathen to have a Seon. However, as I was working on this chapter, I realized how much sense it made. It lends a bit of hypocrisy to the Derethi religion, and I found that I liked that a great deal. The Seon also allowed me to move more quickly with Hrathen's plans. I couldn't have made the storyline nearly as compact if Hrathen didn't have access to a Seon.
As a side note, I'm planning this Seon here to make an appearance in the sequel (if I write one.) She would be Adien's own Seon, as he would probably be the hero of the sequel. (Along with his brother and sister.) For those of you who think I didn't deal enough with the Seons in this book—the sequel would have strong focus on them. In fact, I'm tempted to make this Seon a viewpoint character. However, that would bump me up to four characters, which wouldn't let me use the chapter triad system.
Raoden's memory of Ien at the beginning of this chapter pretty much sums up what the Seons are. A lot of readers have asked me for more on them, and I'll give it eventually. However, in this book, you simply need to know that they are what they appear. Servants bound out of love, rather than duty, force, or pay.
The original inspiration for Seons came, actually, when I was in high school. Visually, I was inspired by the Passage series—a collection of paintings by Michael Whelan. Every painting in the series contained little floating bubbles with what appeared to be a candle flames at their center. At the same time, I was getting the idea for a story. When I wrote it, I included a group of sentient balls of light.
Well, that story didn't go anywhere. Six years later, however, I started ELANTRIS. I wanted a sidekick for Sarene, and I knew I needed someone wise and cautious to off-set her sometimes reckless personality. I had already decided to use the Aon characters, and I considered transforming my old idea of balls of light into glowing Aons. As Ashe's character began to develop, I realized I had something quite strong, and I began to build the mythology and magic behind the Seons.
The latest addition to the story regarding Seons is the idea of 'Passing.' I only speak of it a few times, but in earlier drafts, I didn't have any definite indications that a person and their Seon were bound. The only hint was what happened to Seons whose masters were taken by the Shaod. When Moshe asked about this, I decide I'd include a little more information, and added a couple references to 'Passing' Seons in the book.
Showing Roial's Seon was important, I think. First off, I wanted to give some evidence that there are indeed Seons in Arelon who aren't mad. (So far, I believe that the only named Seons we've seen in the book are Ashe and Ien.) Secondly, Opa is a nice little foreshadowing—it's through him that Ashe manages to contact Sarene's friends. Actually, Sarene's interaction with Ashe is quite interesting in this chapter, as it's somewhat more strained—and therefore a bit more true—than what we've seen before. When under stress, Ashe isn't quite so accommodating and straightforward as normal—but he still does retain Sarene's best interests at heart.
There are a couple of important foreshadowings in this chapter as well. One is the Seon sense of direction, which plays a very small-yet-important part in the climax of the book. The other is Sarene's insight into Ahan's character here at the party. If you've been following him, you realize that he is like she explains—a little too quick to act, not quite as politically shrewd as he'd like others to think. It's this scene, however, where I really wanted to lay the seeds of understanding in my readers, preparing them for his eventual betrayal.
And, as for the Seon explanation here. . .well, I'm afraid that's all you get for this book. I think this is the last (or, rather, only) discussion the characters have about the origins of the Seons. It's not much, but that is intentional. When I wrote ELANTRIS six years ago, I wasn't sure if I'd ever even sell the book. Therefore, I didn't want to invest too much thought into a sequel right then. I wanted the book to stand alone, yet I wanted to give myself plenty of room to do interesting things in a series, if it ever came to that. Therefore, I intentionally left a few open spaces in the worldbuilding—things the characters didn't even know.
One of these holes is the origin, and even workings, of the Seons. I have some ideas, of course, but you'll have to wait for another book before they get explained. (You can thank Moshe for what you got in this chapter—he was very curious about Seons, and he wanted a little bit more. That's why we had the discussion of Passing, as well as the explanation that you don't have to be noble to have a Seon.)
My biggest challenge in this chapter was to make it believable to a reader that the characters would accept Sarene as an Elantrian. The plotting of this section of the book relies on Sarene thinking that she's actually been transformed—otherwise, she would try to escape, and I wouldn't be able to have the short interlude in Elantris I have here. It's vital to Raoden's plotting, and to the relationship between the two of them, that they have some time to think and to get to know one another.
I had a couple things going for me in creating this suspension of disbelief regarding Sarene's nature as an Elantrian. First, she doesn't really know what an Elantrian should be like—she doesn't realize that her heartbeat or her tears betray her. Secondly, as Raoden will point out in a bit, Sarene has come during the time of New Elantris. There is food, there is shelter, and the pain has mostly been overcome. The differences between an Elantrian and a non-Elantrian, then, are less obvious.
Even still, there are a couple of things I had to explain. The first is Ashe's existance. This is a major clue to Sarene and company that she's not really an Elantrian. Sarene's bodily changes—or lack thereof—are going to be more and more obvious the longer she stays in Elantris. Obviously, I wouldn't be able to pull this plotting off for very long, but hopefully it works for now.
I think this final scene with Sarene in bed is much more powerful since I didn't show the actual conversation with Eventeo. Having it begin with a depressed Sarene, the Seon link disappearing, leaves an air of melancholy on the scene that is more telling than the sense of sorrowful confrontation that would have come from having Eventeo explain himself to Sarene.
Obviously, poor Eventeo isn't in a very easy position. I didn't want him to have an easy answer; I think this is a very difficult decision for him to make, and I don't really think there is an obviously right answer—even though Sarene thinks that there is. We'll see later that Sarene doesn't look at things the same way a person who actually has to be a leader does.
I wish I could have made Eventeo a viewpoint character—he goes through a lot of conflict and trouble in the book. Unfortunately, there's never enough room to do all the things that you want to, and I like how tight the book feels with only having the rotating viewpoints.
I had to work very hard to make this one work. I think it turned out, but it is a little bit of a stretch. Hopefully, readers will go with me on this one because of the climactic feeling of the near-ending.
Regardless, I do think I gave Raoden all the pieces he needed here. Adien always existed in the book for this one moment—to give Raoden the length measurement he needed to go try to save Sarene. I've established that Seons have perfect senses of direction, and I've talked about how to use Aon Tia. More importantly, I think I've established that this is something that Raoden would do. He gets just a shade foolhardy when Sarene is concerned. (It's all her fault.)
There is another important element to this teleportation. I thought it important to involve deity in the climax of what has been such an overtly religious book. You may not believe in God, and it is never my intention to belittle your choices. However, the format of this book has been one that dealt with religion and the way that people interact with their faith. And so, I took this last moment of the book, and gave Raoden an opportunity to call upon the aid of providence.
Raoden arrives safely, despite the odds against his having gotten the distance, direction, and other factors right. You are free to simply think of this as luck, if you wish.
So, Hrathen wasn't really dead. (Ironically, while many of you are probably saying 'yeah, yeah. That was obvious,' I actually didn't have him appear here in the first eight drafts of the book. I'll explain later.)
I think this is my favorite scene of this chapter. Not only is it written a little better than the rest of the book (I added it quite late—just this last summer) but it gives final closure to the Hrathen-Dilaf relationship. It uses Hrathen's time in Dakhor as an ironic twist against Dilaf. In short, it is a pretty good scene. Fulfills character, plot, and theme at the same time—while giving us a nice image to boot. (Though I do hate to do the "Hey look, a guy we thought was dead is really alive" twist.)
The story behind this scene is pretty recent. One of the original rewrites Moshe asked for was a fix of the ending, which he thought was too Deus Ex Machina. (Which, indeed, it was.) I don't think I'll go into the entire original version here—it was quite different. You can read the alternate ending in the deleted scenes section, when I throw it up next month. The short of it, however, is that Ien (Raoden's Seon) showed up to save Raoden and Sarene from Dilaf. I used a mechanic of the magic system that I have since pretty much cut from the novel (since it was only in the book to facilitate this scene) that allowed Ien to complete his Aon, 'healing' Dilaf. Except, since Ien's Aon was broken, it turned Dilaf into an Elantrian instead. (A non-glowing Elantrian. One like Raoden the group used to be—like Dilaf's own wife became after she was improperly healed in Elantris.)
I know that's probably confusing to you. The scene, over all, was just kind of weak. It relied on a barely-explained mechanic mixed with a tangential character showing up at just the right moment. When Moshe asked for the change, I immediately saw that I needed to bring Hrathen back to life for a few more moments. Letting him die on the street just wasn't dignified enough (though originally I wanted him to die this way because it felt more realistic.) I wanted a final confrontation between Hrathen and Dilaf, since it would give most people's favorite character a heroic send-off, and would also let me tie in the aforementioned Dakhor irony.
In the end, I was very pleased with the rewrite. It's good to have an editor.
9) Speaking of sequels, here's what I'M planning. A book that takes place ten years after the events of ELANTRIS. It would occur in the capitol city of Fjorden, and would star Kiin's children as viewpoint characters along with a Seon viewpoint character. The plot of the book: Wyrn has declared that Jaddeth, the Derethi God, is going to finally return. (A new interpretation of the scriptures says that he'll return when everyone east of the mountains converts, so they don't have to worry about Teod and Arelon.) Kiin's family, ambassadors to the Fjordell state, has to deal with the chaos of this announcement, and investigate the truth behind the Dakhor magic. Thoughts?
Regarding Elantris, I read a while back that you had no intentions of writing any sequels, but then you had a change of heart. I know that you've been busy with a lot of other projects, but has there been any progress at all on a possible follow-up, or maybe ideas you could share on an Elantris sequel that have been bouncing around in your head?
I doubt I will do a sequel that begins just after Elantris ends, at least not with the same characters and in the same place. There are lots of ideas I want to explore in the world of Elantris, though. I might do something about the Seons, or focus on a different culture, or write about something that happens many years after the story of Elantris.
Ok real quick then I'll get back in line again. There's a bunch of people who follow this stuff online ... I just found out about it ... I don't want to call them a cult, but ... So anyway, at one point someone asked you if Seons were shards of—
Devotion ... yeah Aona, and you said that was close. My question is: are the Aons at the HEART of the Seons shards of Devotion?
No, but close.
But ... I was sure ... the floating Aon at the heart, that's not a shard ...
(taking pity on me) You're close but a word is wrong. You're using the wrong terminology.
SPLINTER. Are the Aons at the heart of Seons SPLINTERS of Aona?
Can I post that online?
. . . Ok. That's fine. It's been long enough, they've earned it.
How long before the events of Elantris did Odium kill Aona/Devotion and Skai/Dominion?
Same time as the origins of the Seons.
This was the second-closest I came to getting RAFO'd. He was sort of jovially apologetic about this answer; I tried to get a solid number of years but to no avail.
Discussion of the week: Shadesmar & Truthspren
It says that it's dangerous to travel to Shadesmar on Sel. Why?
It has to do with the Dor and the lack of an entity controlling much of the power Odium left in his wake on Sel.
Woah, that's interesting. I had no idea Odium left little bits of his power on Sel... I guess it kinda makes sense for evil monks to be powered by pure hate, though.
Odium did not leave his power behind, one should note. He left several other powers which are now, to a large extent, mindless...
This is an awesome answer!
If you wouldn't mind answering, does Roshar have a similar problem, with Honor being Splintered?
No, Roshar does not have the same problem. There are some differences going on. (One reason being that the spren are far more extensive on Roshar, and provide something of a "release valve." The Seons and the Skaze on Sel are not numerous enough to fulfill a similar function. Though, of course, that's only one part of the puzzle. Raw power is dangerous.
It's one reason everyone should be thankful Kelsier was around on Scadrial.
When the Aonic peoples discovered Elantris… did seons exist… Okay let me go back to my timeline... It kind of means you have to define what you mean by Aonic. The problem is if you dig back too far in history it's kind of like asking "What’s a German?" You know what I mean?
Because the Aons are based upon Elantris itself and so they don't become Aonic until they are writing the Aons.
And Aonic is also—You are talking about the people and so it's like are the Normans Brits? Or are they Vikings? Or are they Frenchman?
Why don’t we phrase it as the people of Sel when they discovered Elantris.
No, no, that’s getting, okay— Let's go ahead and RAFO that one, just because the history of Elantris is very interesting to the cosmere. When people are starting to get an inkling of that.
Odium was there once upon a time.
They have an inkling of the nature of their original Shards, which they would consider their gods.
Kind of like a first, a prime, a parent?
Yes. They kind of know what happened that created them, and they also know this is not the god being worshiped (by Sarene), so...