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Words of Radiance San Francisco signing ()
#2 Copy

Questioner

How did you decide that you were going to tackle racism, classism, gender, all those things in The Way of Kings? What sort of things went into how you decided the various ways...?

Brandon Sanderson

One of the things I like about Fantasy is the ability to tackle things like this in a way that removes the baggage from our current society which is why you see me doing things like the gender relations based around whether the hand is sleeved or not; what are feminine and masculine arts... I want to do something that's one step removed—not too far removed, because I want it to be pertinent—but removed enough that we can remove some of the baggage and talk about things like this. That's where the lighteyes and darkeyes came from.

I just decided to do it because I felt it's an important part of who we are, and something important to discuss. Beyond the fact that the Parshendi-Human thing is going to be a big deal for this series so I wanted to introduce it early on in the book to let you know this is something that we're going to deal with. 

Calamity Austin signing ()
#3 Copy

Questioner

I would like to know how do you make cultures so vibrant?

Brandon Sanderson

So, dig deep rather than go wide. One or two cultures that play off of each other in an interesting way, where you've considered a lot of the ramifications, are gonna to be better than trying to create thirty different cultures. Try to keep focused on what's going to be important to the characters and the books, and try to spend your worldbuilding there. So like if the characters are going to have conflict over religion, spend time on religion. But if instead they're going to have different linguistics and that's a source of conflict to them, spend time on the linguistics.

Skyward San Francisco signing ()
#4 Copy

Questioner

As I read about the Parshendi, can't help but think of indigenous peoples. How do you deal with that and respecting the whole experience of colonization?

Brandon Sanderson

I think one of the things I have to do is embrace it. Like, if I just ignore it, it's worse, and so that's why I've tried to dig into and kind of acknowledge the issues. I mean, it is a minefield, right? I'm wandering into a minefield by writing a story that is basically based off of--

Questioner

American colonization?

Brandon Sanderson

Yes. But at the same time, ignoring it wouldn't work. And the thing about it is, most cultures in our world, this is a question they had to deal with. Whose land is it? I mean, we're still fighting this war--we, I say, we aren't--but war is still being fought in the Middle East over whose land is it, and it's both of theirs, right, depending on how far you go back. And things like that, and so I think ignoring it is the wrong thing to do. But I also think there's a danger in trying to present an answer that is too easy, and so that's the line I have to walk. Embrace it, talk about it, not present an answer that is too easy, present multiple sides on it. It's kind of like the same way like the people in Roshar are both incredibly racist and incredibly sexist, right? Writing people who are racist and sexist without the narrative itself bolstering those sorts of those things is really hard. But, you know, we sign up to do hard things, and if I fall on my face, the best thing I can do is just acknowledge that I've fallen on my face, as I have done in the past.

Goodreads Fantasy Book Discussion Warbreaker Q&A ()
#5 Copy

Morsker

I'd like to ask what led to this decadence in the Iridescent Tones, what were the social causes? It started out as the Cult of the Returned, and a simple faith in caring for the Returned so they'd live long enough to fulfill their purpose. And I assume the Voice even sends them back without memories exactly to foster this faith and hope in people, so that mortals can be part of their salvation instead of just getting divine hand-outs. That sounds really nice. But by the time we reach the events in Warbreaker, a lot of corruption and cynicism has found its way in, no?

Brandon Sanderson

Yes, it has. Part of it is something that Lightsong points out. Their religion encourages the best of the Returned to give up their lives for their people, and they hit a patch where a lot of the best of them have already given up their lives. The rest have their needs and wants seen to. Beyond that, remember this is a society in which they're living in a very temperate climate where there isn't very much harsh weather at all; they're very sheltered, they have an extremely rich resource, and they have a lot of leisure time. So we're mixing leisure time with a somewhat selfish batch of Returned in control, and we're mixing that with a religion that focuses on art and beauty and that sort of thing.

I think one of the dangers this society would have to be worried about would be for this decadence to creep in as has happened at various points in various cultures around the world. The society certainly isn't irredeemable at all, but it is going through a patch of these three concepts aligning in some of the worst sorts of ways. But there are some better Returned than we focus on in the book, and there have been much better Returned in the past.

ICon 2019 ()
#6 Copy

Questioner

We've heard a lot about the lighteyes' ranking system, but less so about the darkeyes. I would like to ask you about what would happen to, like, tenth nahn, the lowest of the lowest.

Brandon Sanderson

So, tenth nahn is easy, because that's the slaves. So, it's the middle ones that get really interesting. And actually, in some ways, the top ones are interesting because the nahns, the top of the Alethi darkeyes, would be analogous to how in the early 1800s, you saw a rise of a merchant class - that actually started back in the 17, maybe 1600s - but the rise of a merchant class that were not noble, but more powerful or richer than the nobility in almost every situation except for some legal situations. And that's what you're seeing there. That's really interesting.

The middle nahns are also really interesting because they have the right of movement, which is an Alethi right that you can leave a city and move to another city. You basically can't be a <share cropper>, you can't be required... you can't be a serf. And that power can be wielded over the lighteyes, by - if the lighteyes is terrible, they can call upon the right to move, leave to whatever city and that lighteyes is demoted, right? Because your lighteyes rank can be influenced by how important the people... your civic rank, you could actually become a lower dahn because of that, or at least lose a lot of prestige because of that.

And then the lowest of them are basically serfs, they don't have the right of movement, and the right of movement is a big dividing line. There is a nahn that doesn't have the right of movement that isn't a slave, also, and these people have pretty dismal lives.

Stuttgart signing ()
#7 Copy

Questioner (paraphrased)

Why do Vorin women have to hide their left hand?

Brandon Sanderson (paraphrased)

Originally, a woman wrote a book about female and male arts, which claimed women could do things like art with one hand while men needed two for their arts, like fighting. Eventually, it evolved and just stuck as a taboo, but it's a cultural thing.

It's similar to how some things are perfectly fine in our Western culture but would be frowned upon in, say, Korea. I wanted to add some weirdness to their culture, something that is pretty normal to them, but strange to us. Taboos usually are strange.

Goodreads WoK Fantasy Book Club Q&A ()
#8 Copy

Jon

Did I miss the explanation for why women have a safe hand and why they must keep it covered?

Brandon Sanderson

No, you haven't missed it. People have asked about this. There will be more explanation in-world as it comes along, but it's for much the same reason that in some cultures in our world you don't show people the bottoms of your feet, and in other cultures showing the top of your head is offensive. It's part of what has grown out of the Vorin culture, and there are reasons for it. One of them has to do with a famous book written by an artist who claimed that true feminine pursuits and arts were those that could be performed with one hand, while masculine arts were those performed with two hands, in a way associating delicacy with women and brute force with men. Some people in Roshar disagree with this idea, but the custom has grown out of that foundational work on masculine and feminine arts. That's where that came from. One aspect of this is that women began to paint one-handed and do things one-handed in upper, higher society. You'll notice that the lower classes don't pay a lot of attention to it—they'll just wear a glove.As a student of human nature and of anthropology, it fascinates me how some cultures create one thing as being taboo whereas in another culture, the same thing can be very much not taboo. It's just what we do as people.There's more to it than that, but that will stand for now.