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EuroCon 2016 ()
#1 Copy

Questioner

I would not like to say commonplace, but there are some prejudices of people when they read you, when they read your work, because of the religious elements, right? This can be a challenge, but there are three things that are absolutely important in your work. One is faith, the other one is moral, what you organize around faith, and then you always, always have the critical spirit that really fights against all of this, and that tries to find value. And this is very peculiar, because you were discussing very transcendental, very important things with this touch of spirituality, but there's always reason and a critical spirit underneath. I would like to know whether you could explore this farther?

Brandon Sanderson

Yes. It is something I have thought about a lot as well. I am a man of faith. I am religious. I am Latter-day Saint for those who don't know. And I am a man of science. I was a chemistry major originally in college, and I am a very big believer, at the same time, in skepticism and logic, and I have a somewhat more rational approach to my faith than perhaps many others do. But I'm not sure if even that is true, I just think that many people are not as vocal as some of those who are faithful, but determinedly ignorant, also.

I feel that, as a writer, one of my mandates is to express multiple viewpoints on topics, and try to work through them by having rational people, sympathetic people, on multiple sides of an argument. Few things bother me in fiction more than a cast of characters who all agree on some topic, except for one idiot who exists to be proven wrong. I don't think that's who we find truth. I think we find truth through disagreement by people who all have good arguments. When two people who disagree discuss an issue, and both listen to each other, both learn, and their understanding of the world expands. And because of my own inherent biases, by being religious, one of the things I seek very strongly to do is to make sure that the opposing opinion to what I believe is strongly represented by someone making the arguments that that side would make if they were writing the book. A falsehood or a weak belief can survive dumb challenges to it, but truth can survive good arguments against it, is what I believe. So you can see, I'm very fascinated by this topic, and the things that fascinate me come out in my books, but it is very important to me that my stories be about questions and not about answers, because of all of this, that questions lead to truth, and thinking you have answers don't go anywhere.

Boskone 54 ()
#3 Copy

Questioner

Are the glyphwards in Stormlight from Elantris?

Brandon Sanderson

No, the glyphwards are purely cultural. There are people who would say that they aren’t, even in-world, but that gets into theology and religion, whether there’s a definitive god and afterlife in the Cosmere or not, which I leave up to personal interpretation, in an effort to not undermine characters who believe spiritually different than I do.

JordanCon 2016 ()
#4 Copy

Questioner

I wanted to know what your stance on gods were, if you were trying-- If you had a meta-message about God.

Brandon Sanderson

If I what?

Questioner

If you had a meta-message about God.

Brandon Sanderson

I do not really. What I'm fascinated by ends up in the books and I'm fascinated by religion. But even in something like The Stormlight Archive, I don't want there necessarily even be a definitive answer? There are god... lowercase "g" gods. Whether there is a capital "G" God is still, in my opinion, left to the interpretation of various people. I'm not necessarily trying to say anything specific, I'm trying to say what the different characters say. Does that make sense? Jasnah doesn't speak my belief, but neither does Dalinar. But they speak their belief, and I try to respect their belief the best I can. So it's more like trying to be true to the different characters.

Boskone 54 ()
#5 Copy

Questioner

(Paraphrased) [Something about treating religion fairly]

Brandon Sanderson

I feel that a story is best when there are multiple people with strong viewpoints who disagree.

Questioner

In a lot of books, religion is the weakness.

Brandon Sanderson

I always hate it when there’s a character in a book who expresses an opinion I have, and they’re the idiot.

Skyward San Francisco signing ()
#6 Copy

Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

I just finished rereading through Legion, and I was curious what led you to write so much about religion and that sort of thing. As a religious person, I really appreciated the fair way that you dealt with it in those books.

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

Being religious myself, it fascinates me, and the different ways that people intersect religion. Having one person who had all of these different personas that can all have different, varying levels of interaction with religion and the divine was also really fascinating to me. It offered me an opportunity that I probably couldn't do in any other story.

Barnes and Noble Book Club Q&A ()
#7 Copy

Jared_A

Brandon, how do you feel your identity and upbringing as a Mormon has affected your work?

Elantris, for instance, centers around a magic system that has essentially been broken because something in the world has changed—a "new revelation" if you will. And then Mistborn has at its core a set of holy writings that have been altered by an evil force.

These things seem decidely Mormon to me, or at least informed from a Mormon perspective. Do you feel that is the case?

Brandon Sanderson

I don't set out to put anything specifically Mormon into my books, but who I am definitely influences what I write and how I write it. I'm always curious at the things people dig out of my writing—neither of the two points you mention above are things that I was conscious of, though they certainly do make interesting points now that you look at them.

My goal in storytelling is first and foremost to be true to the characters—their passions, beliefs, and goals. No matter what those are. I'm not trying to make a point consciously ever in my writing—though I do think that good stories should raise questions and make readers think.

Who I am as a person heavily influences what I write, and I draw from everything I can find—whether it be LDS, Buddhist, Islamic, or Atheist. It's all jumbled up there in that head of mine, and comes out in different characters who are seeking different things.

In other words, I'm not setting out to be like C.S. Lewis and write parables of belief. I'm trying more what Tolkien did (not, of course, meaning to compare myself favorably with the master) in that I tell story and setting first, and let theme and meaning take care of itself.

Fiction doesn't really exist—certainly doesn't have power—until it is read. You create the story in your head when you read it, and so your interpretations (and your pronunciations on the names) are completely valid in your telling of the story. The things you come up with may be things I noticed and did intentionally, they may be subconscious additions on my part, or they may simply be a result of your interaction with the text. But all three are valid.

Jared_A

On a different but related note, I really love that you honestly look at religious convictions in your books and that you don't portray such convictions in a shallow way.

Brandon Sanderson

Regardless of a person's beliefs, I think they would have to admit that religion and spirituality has played a large part in our development as a people. It's a very important thing to so many of us—and I also think that for most of us, our beliefs are nowhere near as simple as they seem when viewed from the outside. I appreciate your praise here, though I think I still have a lot to learn. There's a real line to walk in expressing a character's religious views without letting them sound preachy—the goal is to make the character real, but not bore the reader.

Shadows of Self Edinburgh UK signing ()
#8 Copy

Questioner

In the first three Mistborn books, and Elantris and Warbreaker, you focus a lot on sort of gods and religion, is there a particular reason for that?

Brandon Sanderson

Why do I focus on gods and religion in my books. Well there's a couple of reasons. The main one is the kind of overarching story of the cosmere, which all my books are connected, there is some divine force named Adonalsium that was broken apart long ago and the scions of that-- people who have that power are showing up and causing problems and things on planets. So that's kind of the hidden epic behind the scenes, and so because of that religion is a very big part of what happens there.

I'm also a religious person. For those who don't know, I'm Mormon, I'm LDS. And so religion is important to me and whatever I'm fascinated by works it's way into my books. Now I'm generally the type of writer who doesn't feel like I should go into a book with a theme, I should explore what the characters are passionate and let the theme manifest naturally. And so I do that a lot, I don't go in saying "Oh I'm going to teach people this" I say "Who is this character, what are they passionate about" But the things I'm interested in you see. That's why you end up with stories about a god who doesn't believe in his own religion, from Warbreaker. Or you end up with these different things, with Kelsier founding a religion to use it, or having people with different types of faith. And I really think that part of the point of fiction is to, for me, to explore different ideas from different angles and try to just tackle them. And so you'll see me coming back to some of the same concepts again and again, because I want to try them from a new angle, see how this person thinks, see how this character deals with it. Because that's just really interesting to me.

/r/fantasy AMA 2017 ()
#9 Copy

Job601

Your books are unusual for the fantasy genre in that they are interested in exploring traditional Christian values, usually coming down in their favor (especially faith in providence and the willingness to believe in a divine plan for the world and the individual, something which comes up again and again in your work.) At the same time, your characters have reason to be suspicious of the specific forms of religious practice in their worlds, and the cult of the survivor in particular can be read as a conflicted portrayal of religion: it's a kind of religious belief which works in some way for its faithful despite being based on a falsehood, and Kelsier is a kind of dark parody of Christ. The cosmere seems to have an implicit theology which separates the truly divine, which is fundamentally inaccessible even to the most knowledgeable characters, from the apparently divine shards and splinters. I guess my question is, how do you think about integrating religious themes into a fantasy universe, particularly given your systematic style?

Brandon Sanderson

There are a lot of things mixing here--more, probably, than I'm aware of myself. (This is the sort of area where I let reader analysis and criticism do the work, as they're probably going to be able to notice connections more explicitly than I will. Like most writers, I'm working by instinct much of the time.)

One element I can talk about is the need for the Cosmere to have questions that will go unanswered. This is most expressly manifest in the "big" questions. Is there a God? What is the actual afterlife like, if there really is one? Is there such a thing as a soul, and are cognitive shadows the actual person, or a manifestation of the magic imitating a person's thought processes?

The reason I don't answer these as myself (though characters certainly have ideas) is because I feel it important the text not undermine the characters who choose not to believe in these things. Though I think I've found answers in life, people rationally disagree with me--and to express only my worldview in the books would severely hamper my ability to have characters who disagree with me, and other characters.

In short, if I were to say, "Yes, there's an all-powerful God" then it would directly undermine characters like Jasnah, who argue otherwise. At the same time, I want characters like Kelsier to develop naturally, and do things that are in line with how sometimes, religions develop on our world, without having it be a statement. (Or, at least one other than, "Hey, this happens some time on our world. It happened here too.")

Fantasy offers some unique opportunities to explore the human condition with religion, and I want to take advantage of that, to see where it takes me and to see what I can learn from the process.

TWG Posts ()
#10 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

First off, no, I didn't base any of the religions in Elantris on any real religions. Shu-Dereth STARTED as the Norse religion when I was worldbuilding. I wanted to take a Norse-style religious feel, then transform it into monotheism over time. However, there wasn't a strict parallel with modern religion. The basis for how all three religions ended up was more Eastern in concept, but again, I didn't use a single religion to focus any of them.

I did take a few things from other religions. For instance, I liked how a lot of modern religions sprang from the same root. Buddhism came from Hinduism, and Christianity was a growth from Judaism. The aggressive Derethi religion was a little bit more like religions that have a convert or die philosophy--but, from my research, that concept has been used in pretty much every major religion at one point and time.

I do worry that people will see Derethi and think of a specific religion. Indeed, since I based Hrathen on what I saw as 'Evil missionary tactics' one could easily relate him to churches that do send out missionaries. This wasn't my intention, however.

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

Justin

This question delves into religion greatly since I spent a good portion of my free time studying theology. Besides that, being a Christian, I sighted many interesting pieces in "Warbreaker," about the pitfalls of blind faith.

I'm wondering if you are criticizing some religious sects who elevate themselves as God though use God or some other deity as a method of control. With more relevance to the Christian faith, are we seeing the consequences of humans who rely on human reasoning for their understanding of God, an often superficial explanation?

Brandon Sanderson

Religious themes are interesting to me. I rarely go into a book saying, "I am going to expose this foible of religion" or "I am going to highlight this wonderful part of religion." I go into a book telling stories about characters, and the ways that they believe and the things that they believe have an effect on them. I try to present those as realistically as possible.

I do think that there is a dangerous line between faith and what goes beyond that. You call it blind faith, yet at the same time there is something to be said for trusting those who have gone before and for not having to fall in a pit yourself because other people already fell in that pit. Where that line comes is a subject of great debate between religious people and non-religious people. I do think that questions should always be allowed and should always be asked. It is important to be asking questions.

I don't really mind how people believe, or what faiths people have. I think it's a fascinating part of us, that we all have different faiths. Where we stray into danger is in how we treat people who don't agree with our faiths. That, I think, is a very dangerous and frightening thing—the ways that various people treat others who disagree with them. No matter what side you're on, whether they belittle them, discard them, or destroy them, these various things are one of the great pitfalls of any type of belief or faith. So I deal with that. But again it's not because I sit down and say, "I am now going to write a book about this, or tell a story about this." It's because that's what's important to the characters I'm writing.

That said, when I was approaching WARBREAKER, I did think distinctly to myself, "You know, religion's been the bad guy in the past two stories you've told. You probably ought to do something different." That's why the—Spoiler alert!—the religion in WARBREAKER is vindicated in the end. I think there are some very good things about their religion, and though Siri is convinced that they are the bad guys, it turns out that indeed they are not. In fact, they are quite good...though there are certain things they're doing that I wouldn't necessarily agree with.

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

Sandi

A common thread in both Warbreaker and the Mistborn Trilogy is religion. I really liked how you handled religion in both these books. Mistborn deals with religious searching and Warbreaker is more about religious tolerance. I've heard that you are a Mormon. How much does your faith influence your writing?

Brandon Sanderson

This is a surprisingly common question for people to ask me, and I'm always happy to answer it because my religion makes up a big part of who I am. Because I am religious myself, I am fascinated by religion. And so I think that the misuse of religion is a great evil, and the use of religion for good reasons is a great good. In fact, being a religious person, I think that the misuse of religion becomes a much more frightening thing than it might otherwise be, which is why you sometimes see religions as villains in my books. My religion shapes who I am, and it makes me interested in certain things; it makes me fascinated by certain things; it shapes my sense of right and wrong.

But I don't actually sit down and write books wanting to advocate any particular concept. I feel that when I write books I need to advocate whatever the character believes at the time. Now, what I feel is heroic may shape the characters I create as protagonists, but I don't think that the purpose of the fiction that I write is to preach directly to the reader. I think that the purpose of the fiction I write is to explore different concepts and different types of characters and see how they react to the world around them. And that's a very different thing than sitting down and saying I'm going to preach to people. So I don't think my religion causes me to do that, but I do think it causes me to be interested in these kinds of concepts.

I'm not even sure how to define myself. In some circles I come across as very conservative; in other circles I come across as very liberal. One of my core beliefs religiously is that I honestly don't mind you believing whatever you want to believe. What I mind is how you treat people who don't believe as you believe. That's what will get me going. So I don't judge someone based on their belief; I do judge them based on how they treat people who believe differently than they do. (That's a concept, by the way, that you may see pop up in a book later on, because I'm actually quoting one of my characters in this case.)

Boskone 54 ()
#13 Copy

Questioner

[...] Do you find in writing that your faith informs some aspects?

Brandon Sanderson

It’s a good question. The things I am fascinated by end up in books. I am not a CS Lewis or a Phillip Pullman. I don’t sit down with a message I want to get across. I explore who a character is and try to figure out what message they would want to get across, then try to make it work. But you can find all kinds of things. My upbringing is going to be deeply influential on what is in the books. So yes and no. I leave that more to people who want to analyze and find things. I think that’s legit--I got an English degree. It’s totally fine to take it and be like, “This is the unconscious influence.” I more just write the books. Tolkien insisted to the end of his days that Lord of the Rings was not a metaphor for WWI, and you read that book and if you know anything about WWI you think, “This really feels like a metaphor for WWI.” It’s that sort of thing. You write the book and explore themes that are important to certain characters, and theoretically some of that does come out to the readers and they can connect it and put it together.  That’s basically how I approach it. I am very fascinated by religion, as you can tell. So I try to have characters--Stormlight is a good example. I wanted to have characters who are on all different types of spectrums. You’ve got Kaladin who’s agnostic. It’s basically the classic “I don’t know if there’s a god. If there is, I’m angry at him.” You’ve got Dalinar, who’s a reformist. He’s a Martin Luther, he’s a Mohammed, he’s a Joseph Smith. You know, “Religion is not doing what it needs to right now, we need to expand this.” You’ve got someone like Navani who’s a traditionalist, who wants the old religion to really work, who is trying to reconcile this. You’ve got Jasnah who is straight-up atheist. And then you’ve got someone more like Taravangian who would claim to be an atheist, but what he’s done is taken something nonreligious and ascribed religion to it, sort of like Confucianism, where something that was a philosophy is turning into a religion. And I try to get people on all sides of this thing. And also the religions. You’ve got the Alethi, you’ve got the Passions, you’ve got different ways to approach it, because I think that makes for a more interesting story when you like all these people and then they all disagree.