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Tor.com The Way of Kings Re-Read Interview ()
#1 Copy

Isilel

Does military service raise one's nahn/dahn?

Let's say somebody from a very low nahn, who is basically a serf, right? I mean, they don't have the freedom of movement. So, what if a man like that rises to a sergeant and serves 25 years with distinction, does he go back to being a serf when/if he retires from the military? Would he be required to return to his village/town of origin? Can something like this be properly controlled, even? I mean, do they check traveling people's papers?

Brandon Sanderson

There's a lot of parts to this. Rising within nahns and dahns happens more easily in Roshar than rising in social status did in most societies that had similar things in our world—for instance India, or even England. To an extent, it is very easy to buy yourself up a rank. What you've got to remember is the very high ranks are harder to attain. By nature, the children of someone of a very high rank sometimes are shuffled down to a lower rank—until they hit a stable rank. There are certain ranks that are stable in that the children born to parents of that rank always have that rank at as well. Your example of the soldier who serves with distinction could very easily be granted a rank up. In fact, it would be very rare for a soldier to not get a level of promotion if they were a very low rank—to not be ranked up immediately. The social structure pushes people toward these stable ranks. For the serf level, if you're able to escape your life of serfdom and go to a city, often getting a job and that sort of thing does require some measure of paperwork listing where you're from and the like. But if you were a serf who was educated, that would be pretty easy to fake. What's keeping most people as serfs is the fact that breaking out of it is hard, and there are much fewer of those ranks than you might assume. The right of travel is kind of an assumed thing. To be lower ranked than that, something has to have gone wrong for your ancestors and that sort of thing. There are many fewer people of that rank than there are of the slightly higher ranks that have the right of travel. It's a natural check and balance against the nobility built into the system. There are a lot of things going on here. Movement between ranks is not as hard as you might expect.

Isilel

Ditto with the lighteyes—does exemplary service raise one's dahn?

Brandon Sanderson

It's much harder for a lighteyes, but the king and the highprinces can raise someone's dahn if they want to. But it is much harder. In the lower dahns, you can buy yourself up in rank. Or you can be appointed. For instance, if you're appointed as a citylord, that is going to convey a certain dahn, and you could jump two or three dahns just by getting that appointment. Now, if you serve poorly, if a lot of the people who have the right of travel leave—which this doesn't happen very often—if your town gets smaller and you're left with this struggling city, you would be demoted a dahn, most likely. If a lot of the citizens got up and left, that would be a sign. They could take away your set status by leaving. That’s something that’s built into the right of travel. So these things happen.

Isilel

If parents have different nahns/dahn's, how is child’s position calculated? For instance, if Shallan had married 10-dahner Kabsal, what dahn would their children belong to?

Brandon Sanderson

The highest dahn determines the dahn of the child, though that may not match the dahn of the highest parent. For instance, there are certain dahns that aren't conveyed to anyone except for your direct heir. The other children are a rank below. I believe that third dahn is one of the stable ranks. If you're the king, you're first dahn. Your kid inherits. If you have another kid who doesn't marry a highprince, and is not a highprince, then they're going to be third dahn, not second, because that's the stable rank that they would slip down to, along with highlords and the children of highprinces.

Isilel

Or, and another thing—what happens if a lighteyed child is born to darkeyes or even slaves? Which should happen often enough, given that male nobles seem rather promiscuous. Anyway, are such people automatically of tenth dahn?

Brandon Sanderson

The situation is very much taken into account in these sorts of cases. Normally—if there is such a thing as normal with this—one question that's going to come up is are they heterochromatic. Because you can end up with one eye of each color, both eyes light, or both eyes dark. That's going to influence it a lot, what happens here. Do you have any heirs? Was your child born lighteyed? This sort of thing is treated the same way that a lot of societies treated illegitimate children. The question of, do I need this person as an heir? Are they born darkeyed? Can I shuffle them off somewhere? Set them up, declare them to be this certain rank. Are you high enough rank to do that? Are you tenth dahn yourself? What happens with all of these things? There's no single answer to that. The most common thing that's probably going to happen is that they are born heterochromatic. Then you're in this weird place where you're probably declared to be tenth dahn, but you may have way more power and authority than that if one parent is of a very high dahn, just as a bastard child in a royal line would be treated in our world.

Barnes & Noble B-Fest 2016 ()
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Questioner

I was wondering if the Tranquiline halls, if that's in the spiritual, the physical, or the Cognitive?

Brandon Sanderson

So... that's a big fat RAFO, because that's actually a false dilemma, there are other options than those three. One of which just being that it is a mythological piece from their theology and not an actual location.

Questioner

So it's not an actual place?

Brandon Sanderson

That's a fourth option for the three, does that makes sense? So its a bigger RAFO even than that, it's a RAFO in that I'm not going to confirm that its one of those three. Good question.

Oathbringer San Francisco signing ()
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Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

In Way of Kings, all of the philosophers and logic masters are male, and reading and writing is described as a feminine art. It was long ago, so was there...

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

...This was a shift that happened in Roshar at a certain distinct point, where reading and writing became feminine arts. It was related to a power struggle over Shardblades and Shardplate, where certain people in charge realized, "If we can push the women towards something else, we can have all their weapons!" I know, it's not a good thing. But it happens. That's where safehands came form, and things like this, philosophies written in the past being taken kind of as dogma, and power struggles being involved, and things like this, and there was a shift happening. You'll find there's plenty of female philosophers, but they tend-- that tends to be a dividing point, and you start to see female philosophers appearing in Roshar after that divide, and you tend to see a lot more male philosophers beforehand. Good question.

Words of Radiance San Francisco signing ()
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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. 

Oathbringer San Francisco signing ()
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Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

I was wondering if you were ever gonna talk about how some of the names are, like, palindromes and what it means?

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

So, in the Stormlight world, symmetry is holy. And so, palindromic names are how the names of a lot of religious figures, and things are. And even a lot of people, who-- particularly those who are based off of them. It's a religious concept. The keteks, the poems in the back, are symmetrical poems.

Shadows of Self San Jose signing ()
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Questioner

I almost have a little bit of trouble understanding the difference between the Lighteyed and the darker...How did you come up with it?

Brandon Sanderson

I wanted to have some kind of racism in the books that was removed from the racism we have in our world, so I could talk about it in a more isolated way related to the books; and so, having it based on eye color made sense because the Voidbringers have these glowing red eyes and the Heralds have these bright eyes. So, this idea of eye color being related to your level of nobility, which is not true, but it entered the culture and became the form of racism and prejudice that they use.

Oathbringer release party ()
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Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

So, I was curious if the Alethi were always-- like, if there was a time where there wasn't a segregation between lighteyes and darkeyes.

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

Yes, that did exist.

Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

...How did the separation occur?

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

There are some clues in [Oathbringer] and in the last book. It has to do with Knights Radiant and Surgebinding and things like that. It's a part RAFO. It's pretty guessable. There's nothing--

Stormlight Three Update #4 ()
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arichards117

When someone is "killed" by a shardblade, their soul is understood to be severed. What do Vorin practitioners believe happens to the soul if it is severed? Does this mean that the soul cannot go to the Tranquiline Halls? If this is the case, why are Shardbearers/Blades so revered rather than feared or hated?

Brandon Sanderson

Vorin belief doesn't take being killed by a Shardblade as destroying the soul, likely because of Knight Radiant traditions.

Words of Radiance Washington, DC signing ()
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Questioner

What theologies and philosophies did you draw on to create Vorinism?

Brandon Sanderson

Vorinism is a hodge podge of a lot of different things. Part of is the Jewish Kabbalah--

Questioner

The mysticism of Jewish--

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, the Jewish mysticism. Part of it is Jewish mysticism, part of is [Islam], but there are a lot of things that are just drawing from philosophies rather than theologies. I'm trying to remember what specifically we were doing... But the main concept was the idea of a church that had been subsumed by a monarchy to the point that the [the church] would be very servile. And that concept led me to a lot of the Vorinism discussions.

Salt Lake City ComicCon 2017 ()
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Questioner

How accurate is the Vorin version of the afterlife?

Brandon Sanderson

How accurate is it? Well, the thing I'm not doing is confirming or denying, right? Like, afterlife in the cosmere, you have seen that-- As a person there, I would believe that there is an afterlife, and things like this. I would say the Vorin one is contradicted by many people all around.

Arcanum Unbounded Seattle signing ()
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Questioner

Why do female*inaudible*

Brandon Sanderson

Well, there are several answers to this. The Alethi would say it is because it is the only way to be modest. But that's not the real answer. The writerly answer, which is also not the real answer, is that I grew fascinated by interesting social taboos by traveling to other countries where, for instance in many countries showing the bottom of your feet to people is insulting, and stuff like that. But the actual answer is that, you saw the events after the Recreance when the Knights Radiant abandoned their shards and, at that point, some people in power realized that if they could eliminate women from picking up the shards then it was twice as likely that they would get one. And so they started popularizing a work, an essay by a woman who had talked about feminine arts were one-handed, painting and things like this, and masculine arts were two-handed, breaking rocks and fighting and stuff like this, and they popularized that and some of the women who were involved in this seized writing, in this division, as a feminine thing. So there were both men and women involved in this sort of split that was kind of a conscious attempt to struggle power, or struggle the power in different ways, and that became not just a thing that people talked about, but an actual feature in the society moving forward.

Shadows of Self Lansing signing ()
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Questioner

The thing about women eating sweeter foods, and how sharp the gender divide was and-- I just found that worldbuilding really interesting, so how do you *inaudible*? 

Brandon Sanderson

So I noticed that a lot of cultures have these really stark gender disparities. And I think in America we don't—like even around the world we still have a lot of them—in America we kind of-- I'm glad we don't because I think it is actual progress to not [have these disparities]. But at the same time that's a really big part of so many different cultures that I wanted to play with that idea.

And I loved in The Wheel of Time how Robert Jordan had the magic word differently [...] and so I was looking for a long time for something I can do that plays with the idea of gender roles, and that's kind of what rose out of it. It actually came from when I was working on the history and the moment when the men kind of seized control of the Shardblades. You know about this?

Questioner

Yeah, I read about it online.

Brandon Sanderson

So that moment I'm like "alright, there's a divergence there. How do they strictly define the gender roles to maintain the power of these weapons?" And I think that's-- and I just kind of built from there.

Questioner

It's really interesting though that women in a way are actually the creative minds-- they're actually not suppressed, but they're *inaudible*.

Brandon Sanderson

It is, right. It's this weird repression where you can't do what you want, but they're actually in many ways the most powerful ones in society, but they're constrained by it.

Questioner

Yeah, they're the ones that are creative because men don't even read because they're not supposed to. I guess that's what's really interesting to me.

Brandon Sanderson

It was sooo much fun to figure some of these things out because it plays with expectations a little bit but also plays into them in really interesting ways.

Shadows of Self San Francisco signing ()
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Questioner

So I’ve noticed a certain syllable, “Vo,” that turns up in this book [Warbreaker] and also in Vorinism. Is there supposed to be a link between Vo, the First Returned, because there seem to be a great deal of similarities between the monks of Austre and the Ardents.

Brandon Sanderson

So there are, um, more links between the planets than people know about, and I’m not going to confirm or deny anything. But the fact that you’re finding words that are connecting, like Worldsingers and Worldbringers, says that there’s… intentional connections. I’m not [confirming a connection], I’m saying that these theories should not be dismissed out of hand.

Arcanum Unbounded San Francisco signing ()
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ailavyn-siniyash

The fact that Vorinism was partially inspired by Judaism and [???] means a lot to me, as a Jew, especially because there's not that much [???] other than dwarves. So thanks for that. I wanted to know if you could elaborate a little on some of the specific Judaism had on Vorinism.

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, sure. Specific influences of Judaism on Vorinism. There are a couple of things. And I can go on this one for a while. I will pick Numerology which-- Jewish Numerology is really cool, particularly if you go back-- Like we always focus on alchemy and astrology as kind of the pseudosciences that were really interesting to scientists back in the day. If you don't know, Newton thought that alchemy was real and he could figure out how to make it work. I love these things that people approach scientifically but have supernat-- superstitious roots. And Jewish Numerology is really cool because the letters and numbers are basically the same thing, so a name can actually mean numbers, and vice-versa, and stuff like that. Which leads to some really cool and interesting attempts to understand the world by taking things from the Torah and transferring them back and forth between numbers and things. That sort of thing is very prevalent in the Vorin religion. To the point that it was really important to them, and then got forbidden. Because they were spending too much time on it. And you will find out roots about that. But that was an inspiration for Vorinism. Of course the Sephir, from the Tree of Life, were an inspiration for the Double Eye of the Almighty, and the idea behind all the different connections and philosophy going in that. The language. Kholin is actually pronounced Kholin, and things like this--

ailavyn-siniyash

Was that-- Sorry... Was Kholin supposed to be kind of close to kohen? Because--

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, mmhmm.

ailavyn-siniyash

Okay, cool.

Brandon Sanderson

So yeah, you're going to find all kinds of things like that in linguistic roots. And there is of course more but I will move on from that because I can talk too long on that. But yeah, there's some very fun stuff.