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26 May 2009

The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and go...

I am a big fan of The Wheel of Time, and have been since 1997, when a good friend of mine saw a copy of Lord of Chaos sitting on a shelf in our school library and, knowing my proclivity for reading such compendious tomes (I had tackled The Lord of the Rings in fifth grade, finally finishing it in sixth), dared me to give it a go. I replied, "I'd love to, but I'll have to read the other five, first." After some looking about, I grabbed The Eye of the World off of a nearby shelf and dove into the prologue.


But this entry isn't about The Wheel of Time, or about how fantastically good (most of it) is. (Seriously, though, go read it.)

It's now twelve years later, and the author, James Oliver Rigney, Jr., has died, leaving the series unfinished. His widow, Harriet, has bequeathed the series to newcomer Brandon Sanderson, by all accounts a fantastic author, and the first part of what was to be the final volume (now split into three due to the massive amount of material that the author left behind) is scheduled to arrive in late October. We're all excited.

I own several of Brandon Sanderson's books (including a signed copy of his latest release, Warbreaker), and I subscribe to his podcast, Writing Excuses, but I must admit (with much chagrin) that I have yet to read or listen to either one. In my defence, I do read his blog regularly (paying the most attention to Wheel of Time-related updates), but I've been far too busy of late to have much time for reading anything longer than the instructions on a packet of toothpicks.*

As I've said, I'm given to understand that Brandon Sanderson is an excellent author, and I have no reason to doubt it. In reading his blog, interviews with him, and the like, I've developed quite a fondness for the fellow. Thus, I was (unaccountably) taken by surprise when he mentioned fellow congregants at his church. I sighed, said to myself, "He is American, after all," and let that be that. RJ was Episcopalian, and quite devout from what I hear.

Later, while browsing Wikipedia for updates to the Gathering Storm article, I came across his entry, and noted that he lived in Salt Lake City. My heart sank. I quickly dug deeper, and discovered that yes, Brandon Sanderson is a Mormon.

As I've said, I'd grown quite fond of the man, and learning that he is a Mormon is like learning that an acquaintance that you've come to admire is a practitioner of homeopathy. I spent a good-natured but ultimately useless forty-five minutes on the telephone with a young Mormon missionary last December, after he called at my home to spread the good word, and it disheartened me to picture Mr. Sanderson going door to door on mission work, proselytising for this peculiar Abrahamic space-alien cult.

Perhaps I'm being unreasonable; I have Catholic friends and Lutheran friends and "spiritual" friends (whatever the hell that's supposed to mean). But this, to me, is like having a Scientologist friend. There's no grand history associated with it; just sheer indoctrination into a transparently fictitious, absurdly unlikely, unapologetically misogynistic, unmistakably racist, nineteenth century cult founded by a convicted con-artist that professes God to be an all-powerful space alien from somewhere near the planet Kolob. (Or, at the very least, that's what it seems to boil down to.) And on top of all of that, they spend a good deal of their time annoying the rest of us. I simply cannot respect those beliefs, and it disappoints me that a person whom I've come to respect seems to hold to them.

But let's be fair for a moment. Although it seems true that Mormon beliefs are almost as ludicrous as those proposed in high level Scientology literature, it's entirely possible that Brandon Sanderson is not really a Mormon. I've heard tell of many people who continue to profess belief even many years after deconversion, for fear of losing family and friends (a very real fear, in both Mormonism and Scientology, from what I've read).

And even if that isn't the case, I, for one, will not let it spoil his books for me. I love and even respect people who hold all kinds of crazy beliefs. Either Brandon Sanderson holds beliefs that seem to contradict all known evidence (perhaps in ignorance of such evidence or, more likely, employing unintentional cognitive dissonance), or he professes to. We'll likely never know.

I fully intend to crack open Warbreaker as soon as I get home. I hear that it's a rousing good read.

*"Hold stick near centre of its length. Moisten pointed end in mouth. Insert in tooth space, blunt end next to gum. Use gentle in-out motion." Bonus points for anyone who gets the reference without resorting to Google.

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