Brandon Sanderson’s preoccupation with deification

6.22.11 | | 7 comments

Brandon Sanderson‘s preoccupation with deification has been mentioned in passing in at least two Writing Excuses episodes (Season 2, Ep. 12 [transcript]; Season 3, Ep. 18 [transcript]). The way it manifests itself in his work is not necessarily uniquely Mormon, but certainly Sanderson’s Mormon-ness is a likely culprit for the source of the preoccupation.

I mention this because I think his work deserves closer examination. And what I’d like to see is less the reading of his works through the lens of Mormon culture, doctrine and history (such as has been done with Stephenie Meyer’s work) and more a through study of this preoccupation as a dialogue across his work and then a situating of that work in relation to notions of power (and especially super power) in fantasy. That is, it’d be relatively easy to do some basic deliniation of how the LDS doctrine of deification translates in to the themes realized in the Mistborn Trilogy and Warbreaker (and to a lesser extent Elantris and The Way of Kings). What could be much more interesting is what the texts themselves do that’s different from or similar to the general field of epic fantasy. This would be a different type of search for Mormon exceptionalism that would focus on the work itself rather than perceptions of Mormon underpinnings/the search for LDS traces.

This is a half-baked thought, to be sure. But it’s one of the things that I’ve been thinking about lately as a way to think about what Mormon literary criticism could/should do.

7 comments: “Brandon Sanderson’s preoccupation with deification

  1. Katya

    I have nothing to add except to say that I’ve noticed the same theme in Sanderson’s work and have also wondered about the connection to Mormonism.

    One place to start would be to compare Sanderson’s depictions of deification with other depictions of godlike beings: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/AGodAmI

  2. Clark

    I’ve only read his one with the metal that people eat. It is an element there albeit a pretty weird one and not really obviously Mormon. (Contrast it with say Card’s treatment of priesthood and deification in Treason or The Worthing Saga) I have his books finishing the Robert Jordan series but my wife misplaced them just as I finally finished rereading all the Robert Jordan volumes in order to read his take. (And those last couple of Jordan ones were tough going) Argh.

  3. Jonathan Langford

    I haven’t read any Sanderson (I became aware of his publishing just as I was trying to limit my own reading in order to write more), but I agree that this is *exactly* the type of thing that an interesting Mormon criticism ought to be doing.

    One of the reasons, I believe, why so many LDS authors are comfortable in the realm of sf&f is because we take literally notions that are simply figurative for much of the rest of the world — such as humans becoming gods. Sf&f is the ideal realm for exploring those kinds of literal implications.

    I’ll go further and say that for far too long, most LDS criticism of fiction by LDS authors has focused on issues of culture: i.e., those works depict Mormon characters, culture, history, etc. I think it’s high time for an LDS criticism that discusses ways that works are Mormon (and not) in their themes — and what that means in terms of understanding and appreciating those works.

    Sorry. I’ll step down from the soapbox now…

  4. Wm Morris

    Clark:

    I think the key to Mistborn and deification is the ending of the final book (which I won’t spoil here) as well as what’s revealed in both the second and third books about the Lord Ruler. And it’s Warbreaker where he deals with it most explicitly.

    But I’d say that Elantris, The Way of Kings and the Mistborn trilogy all have something interesting to say about how flawed people deal with power, which, of course, is both something of interest to Mormons but also fairly common in fantasy. That’s why the key question is to situate Sanderson’s work in relation to the field. For example, Elantris is unusual (perhaps) in that the story arc of the religious zealot is more complex that one might normally find in a fantasy novel.

  5. Wm Morris

    Katya:

    I’m not a big fan of TV-Tropes, but, yes, that entry certainly outline the basics when it comes to Brandon’s work.

    Jonathan:

    Certainly Orson Scott Card’s works have been explored thematically (and here’s we insert yet another lament that the AML annuals aren’t available), but what I’m proposing is sort of a backwards way of getting at that. That is, criticism that deals with the works as is and in relation to their field and then from there perhaps certain consonances with Mormon thought/culture/history will be made manifest.

    I suppose that why I’m framing things in this way is that LDS critics run some of the same risks that non-LDS critics do when trying to read their work through a Mormon lens (c.f. much of the criticism and commentary on Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series) — these risks include guessing at authorial intent and/or access to certain Mormon materials (historical, theological); providing readings that explain via Mormon meanings that might in actuality be easier explained via the genre that the author is actually working in; and elision of textual evidence that counters the strong Mormon reading (or at least minimizes it).

    Of course, all literary approaches have their blind spots and work better with certain texts than others. And, like I said — this idea is a bit half-baked.

  6. Katya

    Wm – How are you not a fan of TV tropes?! (If TV tropes was a person, I would have its children.)

    But my point wasn’t “here’s a definition of deification,” it was more “here’s a reading list of works with deification themes—is Sanderson doing something significantly different from everyone else and is that different thing recognizably Mormon?”

    Which is a question I don’t know the answer to, but it seems like a place to start.

  7. Wm Morris

    I find TV tropes to be similar to Jungian archetypes or Propp’s morphologies — interesting as a system, not so illuminating when it comes to analysis of real texts.

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