Mild Sacrilege To Celebrate Sanderson

oathbringer_cover-finalPioneer Day may be Mormonism’s most distinctive holiday, but Brandon Sanderson Book Launch Day is a close second.

November 14, 2017.  It’s a floating holiday; the exact date changes each year, but Sanderson is prolific – fans know that at least one Tuesday a year, they’d better plan ahead to storm the BYU Bookstore gates, take mid-week vacation, and lock themselves with snacks in a cozy be-fireplaced room. It may be days before we re-emerge.

This year is particularly important.   This year, Brandon Sanderson Book Launch Day celebrates a Major Launch.   Behold Oathbringer, the latest behemoth installment of The Stormlight Archive (earlier novels: The Way of Kings, Words of Radiance).

Mormons all across the Salt Lake Valley have eagerly anticipated this release, setting up a tent city in Provo. The lines rival General Conference. The BYU Bookstore’s release party  – actually, so many people are attending this year they’ve had to move the event to the Utah Valley Convention Center  overpowers the Cosmere with its delighted geekery. [1]

I have long been a faithful adherent to Sanderson-ism, discovering him more than 10 years ago when another Mormon-nerd-hero, Ken Jennings, blogged about his college roommate publishing his first fantasy novel. [2]  And ever since my conversion, I have sought to strengthen my brethren, giving away copious amounts of paperbacks. My red bookshelves prominently feature autographed Sanderson hardcovers.

(warning: some mild spoilers from long-published Sanderson books are below)

Oathbringer will likely to be my principal topic of conversation with all of my nerdy Mormon friends and family for at least the next month – at least until Star Wars: The Last Jedi comes out. Don’t be surprised to find me skipping Sunday School to debate Radiant theology. A theology which, from my perspective, centers around the singular question: what happens when gods give up?

As Sanderson has mused:

One of the biggest fundamental tenets of Mormonism is deification of normal people… Mormonism believes that we are gods in embryo and we are here to learn and have experience so we will be better in the afterlife, and growing and we’ll eventually– Joseph Smith taught “What Man is God once Was, and what God is Man may Become” maybe not “will be” but “may become” That’s what he said. And so if you look at my books there’s a whole bunch of deification going on, right? That’s like fundamental to the Cosmere is “What do people do with the power of the gods when they’re given it?”

Even more than playing with theological conceptions of deity, I’ll be combing Oathbringer for sly Mormon references. Religion is at the core of Sanderson’s universe. To build it, Sanderson draws on a large number of earthly sources (he once confessed at a dinner that he loves to conduct religious research by kibitzing on message boards), while inventing fantastical faiths of his own.

I often think the internet at large over-reads the Mormonism present in Sanderson (although not as badly as they did with Stephanie Meyer). After all, Sanderson interweaves equivalent overtones of atheism and Buddhism and Hinduism and Catholicism and paganism and so much more. But every now and then, Sanderson can’t help himself.   The references are too blatant. He slips in tinges of Mormonism, like offertory slices of Better-than-Sex Cake to Happy Valley.

Take Sanderson’s description of Keep Orielle, a rich noble’s palace in the third book of the Mistborn trilogy. “[The] room had a relatively low ceiling and small, intricate designs in the stonework. It was as if the architect had tried for beauty on a delicate scale, rather than an imposing one. The entire chamber was crafted from white marble of various shades. While it was large enough to hold hundreds of people—plus a dance floor and tables—it still felt intimate. The room was divided by rows of ornamental marble pillars….” Sanderson later admitted this palace was designed off of the Salt Lake Temple.

Or in The Way of Kings, Kaladin’s entire plot arc felt like a retelling of Joseph in Egypt – with a dash of Samuel the Lamanite. Meanwhile, Adolin oddly parallels Nephi. And multiple characters, in pivotal moments, faced with moral choices on which hang the fate of a nation, mull over variations on these words: “It is better for man to sin than for a people to be destroyed.”  Every Mormon I’ve discussed this with has immediately turned to 1 Nephi 4:13: “It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.”  (A line that itself parallels John 11:50).

Some of Sanderson’s Mormon-candy-references are more humorous: when Adolin confronts the awkward world of matchmaking, he can’t help but remark: “Sure, it’s all right for [my female cousin] Jasnah to run about into her middle years without a spouse, but if I reach my twenty-third birthday without a bride, it’s like I’m some kind of menace.”

All that’s missing is “…to society,” and Adolin could be in any singles’ ward’s elder’s quorum, quoting Brigham Young.

So go forth, my fellow nerd friends. Scout Oathbringer for Mormon allusions. Eat, read, and be merry. For tomorrow is Brandon Sanderson Book Launch Day!

[1] By Wednesday, Sanderson will be in San Francisco! Where I happen to be this week for work! Truly, miracles never cease.

[2] I was incredibly impressed with Sanderson’s early work at the time; I was also a freshman in college. In retrospect, having re-read some of it lately, Sanderson’s first few novels feel amateur compared to the mastery he has gained with age.  (When I was a child, Sanderson wrote as a child; but as I became an adult, Sanderson put behind childish things?)

*Background on the cover is available on Tor.com

Comments

  1. Some are converted by a transcendent spiritual experience. Some count the cost first. For those of us in the latter camp, Oathbringer is book *three* in the Stormlight Archive which means 2384 pages that come before (plus a novella that can probably be skipped). High cost.
    (Not trolling. Since I didn’t read the first two, whether to start in or let this whole phenomenon pass by has been a serious question for whole minutes over the last several days.)

  2. So, I am sorry to be a wet blanket, but I tried to read the first book of this series, The Way of Kings, and found it totally unreadable. Painful. I gave up about half way through. Sanderson seemed to me to have a talent for portraying characters that I. Did. Not. Care. If. They. Lived. Or. Died.

    One of them did die, and my only thought was, “Thank Kos. At least that’s over. Finally.”

    I should probably try one of his other series, since everyone has bad days, but I am not likely to celebrate further installments in this one.

    I’m delighted that there are people who enjoy his work, and I congratulate him for his successes doing what he does, but in my book he’s no Tolkein, no Zelazny, no McKillip, no Hodgell. A chacun son gout. And caveat emptor, I suppose.

  3. Well I got through the Mistborn trilogy one Chrstmas holiday. I enjoyed them, though found them somewhat lengthy. But I really loved the first two books of Wax & Wayne trilogy in the Mistborn universe that followed later. Mostly because I really enjoy mixed genre detective novels. Insofar as the final book was less detective and more original Mistborn it was disappointing.
    I haven’t tried the other series.

  4. For those who need something shorter, the Steelheart series is also pretty good. The premise is basically “what would happen if people started to get super powers, but using those powers turned them evil”

  5. I wish I knew more people like you in my ward. Most people like to watch sports and shoot guns. As an EQP I make sure to ask what everyone is into when they introduce themselves to the quorum, looking for fellow nerds. The results have been disappointing, for nerd finding at least.

    On a different note: I found that Stormlight offers the least amount of Mormon related goodness in comparison to Mistborn or Warbreaker, or even the Cosmere metanarrative. Also I am not so sure that Adolin parallels Nephi as much as, say stepping up and doing the work of Alethi nobility that his father wants so desperately to change. Interesting perspective though.

  6. Larry the Cable Guy says:

    There’s a resonance that comes from seeing interesting characters in exotic worlds working out the common human drama. Even someone as wonderfully creative as Sanderson is going to open pathways for setting, character, magic and conflict much more easily than plowing unexplored ethical grounds. I can’t remember the term Orson Scott Card uses — something like “mythic truth” — to describe how a reader experiences a reflection of their own guiding philosophy even while turning pages in a world they can only imagine.

    Of all of the Mormonish themes that make their way out, I thought his cave sequence with Rand at the end of A Memory of Light was the most overt case for agency and consequence that I have read in recent years. Interestingly, that arc seems to have largely been written by Robert Jordan, and I thought the end result was outstanding and powerful.

  7. I’ve worn my Shallan costume to the

  8. Kristine N says:

    When did BCC turn into facebook? Sorry, I accidentally hit enter and my comment posted before I was finished.

    I’ve worn my havah (Shallan costume) to the stake trunk-or-treat two years in a row trolling for other Sanderson fans. So far no dice.

    Oh, now enter works fine for me. Bizarre.

  9. @DLB, while I consider The Way of Kings to be one of the finest books I have ever read, I would strongly recommend that you don’t start there. It does start slow, and the main character, Kaladin, goes through a lot of punishment and suffering, but every bit of it is worth it at the end. You couldn’t tell an ending like that without making him really earn it.

    Start with Mistborn, or Warbreaker or something short like The Emperor’s Soul.

  10. Kristine N says:

    Because some things must be shared, here’s a scene from Oathbringer brought to life:

    https://www.tor.com/2017/11/13/watch-brandon-sanderson-and-the-ridiculous-readers-perform-a-scene-from-oathbringer/

  11. Let me be trollish for a second…Seriously, when did BCC turn into facebook? Not living in “Zion” I have no idea what you people are talking about and I read a great deal of SciFi/Fantasy.

  12. it happens – I live in “zion” and had no idea this kind of stuff happened.

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