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Rajiv's Threads In the Pattern: Wired Thinks World Building Is Mormon

  • Wired Magazine sought to write an exposé on fantasy author Brandon Sanderson, but couldn’t get the facts to fit the framing. They published it anyway.

Rajiv Moté is Dragonmount’s book blogger with a lens on the craft of fiction writing. When he’s not directing software engineers, he writes fiction of his own, which can be found catalogued at his website.


There is an ongoing moment in the literary world (see “Cat Person” and “Bad Art Friend”) where fiction is seen as a puzzle-box for readers to decipher truths about the authors and the lit scene. The events in these stories are fictional, but if you sleuth enough, you’ll find the scandalous truths about the author and their acquaintances, showing that it’s all just veiled biography.

When I read Jason Kehe’s attempted exposé of author Brandon Sanderson in Wired Magazine, “Brandon Sanderson Is Your God,” the best (and maybe most charitable) reason I could infer for the article’s existence was that Kehe wanted to reveal the hidden-and-problematic truth of Sanderson’s popularity. Then he got mad that he couldn’t.

Kehe enters Sanderson’s world like a Royal Academy ethnographer coming to study a primitive culture, or maybe a New York columnist who has a layover in the midwest and decides to write about it. He sneers at the prose (“At the sentence level, he is no great gift to English prose”), Sanderson’s writing process (“Sanderson has said: “I detest rewriting,” “I write for endings,” and “I write to relax.” It shows. He writes, by one metric, at a sixth-grade reading level”), Utah restaurants (“at that first dinner, over flopsy Utah Chinese”), his friends and family (“Sanderson’s assistant is his wife’s sister. As I orient myself within the Cosmere House, I keep running into his nearest and dearest. His doppelgänger brother. Multiple siblings-in-law. Neighbors. People’s children”), their topics of conversation (“Sanderson gives feedback with half his brain, the other half occupied with autographing books. It’s only afterward that the real talk happens, such as Star Wars debates”), his fans (“As is typically the case at these things, there’s a general air—warmish, body-odored—of unselfconsciousness. By my rough count, some three-quarters of the attendees are men, boys, menboys, blurring together in a mass of pale, fleshy nerdery in Sanderson-appropriate graphic tees”), his religion (“it’s no secret: Mormonism is the fantasy of religion. ‘The science-fiction edition of Christianity,’ I’ve heard it called, with its angels and alternative histories, embodied gods, visions and plates made of gold”), and even actor Hugh Jackman (“When Hugh, lame Hugh, opens his mouth to sing, I can’t help it. I burst into tears”).

But these jabs aren’t the point of the article. Kehe is searching for something. A thesis. Yes, it seems to offend him that Sanderson rakes in money, has legions of fans, but isn’t a public discussion topic in the way George R. R. Martin or J.K. Rowling are. But Kehe seems to be looking for a way to tie who Brandon Sanderson is with the books he cranks out, and reveal that his fans are embracing something that’s at best misguided, and at worse, wrong by the standards of Wired’s sophistication.



“Sanderson, when I eventually meet him in person, makes versions of these excuses, plus others, for his writerly obscurity. It’s kind of fun to talk about, until it isn’t, and that’s when I realize, in a panic, that I now have a problem. Sanderson is excited to talk about his reputation. He’s excited, really, to talk about anything. But none of his self-analysis is, for my purposes, exciting.”

-- "Brandon Sanderson Is Your God," Wired Magazine

The angle Kehe choses is Mormonism. There are legitimate criticisms arising from Mormon beliefs. Both Sanderson and science fiction author Orson Scott Card (the other “weirdo Mormon” Kehe mentions) have gone on record condemning homosexuality as sinful, as their religion instructs, and the “love the sinner, hate the sin” stance they take is no less problematic. But Kehe doesn’t even mention that. He traces the well-worn fantasy tropes of invented gods, rule-based magic, and heroic apotheosis to Mormonism, and Brandon agrees. Kehe thinks Sanderson walked into the trap with his eyes open, and concludes, “The surprise is that it was Sanderson’s ending all along, the ending of his best books. A character becomes a god, and the god beholds his planet below. If Sanderson is a writer, that is all he is doing. He is living his fantasy of godhead on Earth.”

Is that all? Even Tolkien, whom Kehe (justifiably) venerates and thinks that some Sanderson fans will eventually “graduate” to reading, wrote stories in a Christian moral frame with Biblical themes, if not so blatantly as his friend C.S. Lewis. But this is where Jason Kehe wraps up his own Hero’s Journey. It’s in the article’s title, subtitle, and concluding paragraphs. Brandon Sanderson is a Mormon, his stories share ideas with Mormonism, and he builds worlds like a self-styled God.

Big deal. 

As if world-building was a “Mormon” thing and not a “fiction” thing.

Sanderson wrote a response to the Wired article on Reddit. It was classy, perhaps over-charitable, and it upsets the apple cart on Kehe’s starting premise. Sometimes, the author isn’t the story. Sometimes, like in this case, the author is just someone doing what he loves and found a substantial audience who loves the result, even if it’s simply low entertainment and not High Art. And that’s okay.

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Fiction may sometimes instruct, proselytize, or even harangue, but need not do any of these things. But to be successful, it MUST entertain. Sanderson is entertaining. That's all any reader needs to know about him. The rest is just propaganda.

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