I believe the identity of Adonalsium is Brandon Sanderson, no this is not a joke.
If this can be perceived as self-referential, I think Sanderson could be covering the nature of creative writing as a whole. I believe the way to support this is to look at everything Brandon has written and everything we can come to understand about his nature through these stories. The key to understanding this is the existence of Hoid, who is a perfect culmination of these two things.
Hoid is an Omniscient seeming character interacting with most of the Cosmere characters. He has competition like Shards and we’ve come to understand their limits over the course of the series. He understands the nature of Investiture, so he knows how to collect it all. I think his goal could upend every character in the Cosmere’s belief that what they’re living is real. And to return something that once was.
Sanderson has said that the concept of Hoid was inspired because he would insert himself in the story. (1: Because I cannot seem to link right now as a new member I will link a separate doc attached that provides links to the WoB.)
If you can insert yourself into something someone else created you know it’s not real. You can figure things out before the characters do. The self-insert character Sanderson created knew what the characters didn’t like he brings up in the WoB link. Let’s say you self-insert into a story that is fictional. You know it’s not real but since it’s a story you have the awareness to know it will end and you may have an idea of how that happens. But what you don’t know is exactly how it happens. Your self-insert has to experience the story with you. Throughout his appearances, Hoid has conveyed this same thing through his words and actions.
OB: “I can know where I’m supposed to be, Shallan, but not always what I’m supposed to do there.”
There’s also a certain amount of confidence that comes with knowing you’re experiencing a story while the characters act as if they don’t.
WoK: “Brightlord?” the guard repeated. “What are you doing up there?”
“Waiting,” Wit said. He looked up, glancing eastward. “Waiting for the storm to arrive.”
“That made the guards more uncomfortable. A highstorm was not predicted this night.”
Sanderson also explains this same occurrence in the following quote…
"Oh, no, they think that person is who they think they are, but nooo! This is this other person!" And so, I had this kind of proto-Hoid in my head jumping between other people's books.”
Sanderson here explains confidence that develops from being able to discern the characteristics of a story when you self-insert. The characters don’t know that they’re in a story. They believe everything is real. That’s what makes us invested in what’s happening. If Sanderson's insert character tried to tell them he was not real, they would not take him that seriously. He's in their story.
To make the characters believe he is not real you have to make them believe the world they are living in is fake. Because Adonalsium was shattered the Shards could make and fight over planets. Giving us the stories of Mistborn, Stormlight etc. But by doing this no character in the Cosmere knows what the Beyond is and Sanderson has stated he will never reveal. To make a character not return to the three realms you send them to the Beyond. Sanderson has also stated once someone transitions to the Beyond, their Investiture returns to the Shards and the Cosmere at large. (2)
But since we know Adonalsium is where Investiture is derived from. Yet it has been proven some characters do not know his name (yet) until it was introduced by Hoid to Dalinar for example. The question becomes how did this happen? The best place to look is Hoid’s home planet Yolen.
I think because Adonalsium knew everything, he was a force that could create everything after the three Realms were created. He was inherently a force that could oppose nothing in the realms before his creations. I believe his first creation was Yolen, but I believe because he created it, he could not actually live in it. Hoid has hinted at this concept…
OB: “The only way to create something that nobody hates is to ensure that it can’t be loved either…Nobody will like everything, everybody dislikes something, someone loves that thing you hate—but at least being hated is better than nothing. To risk metaphor, a grand painting is often about contrast: brightest brights, darkest darks. Not grey mush. That a thing is hated is not proof that it’s great art, but the lack of hatred is certainly proof that it is not.”
To be able to create I think Adonalsium forgot who he was. We’ve learned that Adonalsium is an anagram of “mind” and “soul”, so I believe he gave up at least a part of his mind to design and Investiture makes up his mind. Hoid shows us Adonalsium could have forgotten his identity through his words to Siri.
Warbreaker: “Thank you,” Siri said quietly. “It was good of you to speak of it. Tell me, where did you learn such an . . . unusual method of storytelling?”
Hoid looked up, smiling. “I learned it many, many years ago from a man who didn’t know who he was, Your Majesty. It was a distant place where two lands meet and gods have died. But that is unimportant.”
You might ask why I think Hoid is talking about Adonalsium. It’s not just his description that gods have died. It’s also how he describes the place it occurred on. Where two lands meet. The two opposing forces that we know of on Yolen are trune and fainlife. These could represent what’s fake and what’s real. The way their characteristics are described can support this. From the Coppermind wiki with its WoB sources we learn their characteristics…
“Its ecology is divided into two distinct parts. Parts of it are similar to post-Catacendre Scadrial, with similar flora and fauna. These parts are called trune. Other parts are covered in fainlife, a poorly-understood, parasitic ecosystem hostile to humans. Although fain has the shape of ordinary flora, the plants and land overtaken by it are bone-white, and spill red liquid when crushed or snapped.”
This sounds like a way for beings on the planet to discern what’s “real” and what’s “fake.” The contrast between these two things doesn’t stop at ecology. The popular phrase for the Yolish is may two worlds become one. And they emphasize not talking about Realmatic theory. Hoid has also discussed Yolen in RoW with his story to Kaladin about the Dog and the Dragon. But the hints aren’t just because of the Dragon. He provides another possible hint that aligns with the characteristics of fainlife.
“It was an amusing scene, watching the dog work. Not only because the animal did all this with feet and snout—but because the ground parted when the dog pawed at it. It wasn’t made of stone, but something else.”
The ground sounds similar to Yolen ecology. It’s emphasized this happens when the dog was the one that did it. There was something the dog did, and it was recognized that it was something else entirely than what they know. I think that while there already seems to be a dichotomy between the mind and soul in the Cosmere’s realmatic theory, what is “real” and “fake” could relate to the mind and soul. What the mind perceives is felt as “real” and something like the soul is viewed as “fake” because it’s not entirely understood initially that it makes up something else. Some could even see this relationship as vice versa. I believe because of this Yolen was the first place where the three realms coexisted on the same plane and at the same time “real” and “fake” thus existed at the same time. This could explain the knowledge we have of three separate sapient beings living on the planet initially, and the Sho Del according to Sanderson “fill the niche” in the fainlife ecosystem like the humans did in the trune ecosystem.
Through the Cosmere we can understand the concept of this through Perpendicularities, as explained by Khriss “Physical matter, Cognitive thought, and Spiritual essence become one—and a being can slide between Realms.” The realms bend enough where they are no longer separated, and it’s known the most common cause of this is a high concentration of Invesititure in the Physical or Cognitive realms.
We know perception affects the Invested Arts so I think this could inspire the possibility Adonalsium’s creations were living with the perception that there was no separation or really “traveling” between these realms because Invesititure was working as a whole because he was still “one” on Yolen in the beginning. Emperor’s Soul has touched on this before…“Here is the point. The longer an object exists as a whole, and the longer it is seen in that state, the stronger its sense of complete identity becomes.”
So the creations were of Adonalsium’s “mind” that he gave up and the Sho Del could’ve also been living amongst what they saw as “soul.” So Adonalsium also could’ve given up a piece of his soul in the creation process also. Which could another layer to a Yolish’s person popular phrase and specification of not discussing Realmatic theory. They were all secure in their identity as a whole but him.
So Adonalsium’s creations were existing among these contrasting forces. Contrast’s relation to creation can be seen in other Cosmere stories. For example, Emperor’s Soul’s ending Gaotona seemed to come to the conclusion about the nature of true art… “True art was more than beauty; it was more than technique. It was not just imitation. It was boldness, it was contrast, it was subtlety.”
When you create something, you are able to discern what is real and what is fake. That is the essence of Adonalsium, he’s referred to as the power of creation. He created but in turn forgot the beings he created. And if he forgot, Adonalsium would think someone else created it, detached from experiencing the world he created. Not able to truly live among both worlds. We as readers do that when reading stories from any fictional author. Detached but admitting its existence and indulging in it. I think the result of this were that the original beings that lived on Yolen, humans, dragons, and the Sho del only saw their identities as real and something else presented as fake. It could’ve been brought to their attention, but each group’s views contrasted each other so this could’ve created a lack of contact. Humans couldn’t interact with what was seen as fake because it was now perceived as parasitic. A lack of understanding can breed hate.
Sanderson’s unpublished works reveal that when Adonalsium was around nothing was possible unless it was it was wished for. A wish that Hoid could’ve made could possibly explain why he lost something, what he gained made him lose something. And we know because of Sanderson he’s had powers that predate the Shattering. (3)
This could be possible if whatever he wished for granted Adonalsium’s one wish. Adonalsium without an identity might’ve been forever alone never being to interact with them. Any attempt to do that could be seen as dangerous to these beings' existence. I think this is the motivation behind the attempts at the Shattering. One did fail but that attempt could’ve been Adonalsium trying to experience beauty.
WoR: Can beauty be taken from a man? If he could not touch, taste, smell, hear, see . . . what if all he knew was pain? Has that man had beauty taken from him?”
“I . . .” What did this have to do with anything? “Does the pain change day by day?”
“Let us say it does,” the messenger said.
“Then beauty, to that person, would be the times when the pain lessens. Why are you telling me this story?”
The messenger smiled. “To be human is to seek beauty, Shallan.
Hoid told the story of the two blind men waiting at the end of an era to Shallan to help her acknowledge the beauty of life while dealing with past pain and suffering. To keep persevering and truly experience life by not giving up. Hoid’s existence could’ve been the key to completing the shattering. He couldn’t be the weapon, but he could show them how to create it or find it and what to use it for. Hoid was the 17th shard because it freed Adonalsium to experience his creations. His Shattering transcended the realms to fully experience everything. (4) But that meant his creations had to know they were “fake” beings created by him. Hoid knows about both “real” and “fake” and mind and soul like Adonalsium originally did. There is also a group chasing down Hoid we know under this same name that was very deliberately chosen… This would make me believe that Hoid did technically exist before Adonalsium. (5)
The name Adonalsium could not (may even be said) exist until the comprehension of what this being thought were other people’s creations were his own. This aligns with Sanderson’s beginnings, his self-insert’s experience in other people’s creations inspired his. The self-insert being a shard of himself. Now some of us only know Brandon Sanderson’s name (existence) because we interacted with his creations. The Cosmere stories we read.
This culminates in my answer that Hoid was the key to turning Adonalsium’s mind into Investiture which gave us the worlds we know now. This is no secret that he was present, but I believe he gave them the way to do it. Hoid gained the awareness to detail this to the 16 beings that shattered Adonalsium. He needed an echo of Adonalsium’s awareness to convince them to shatter him. But I believe when he interacted with the inhabitants them to let them know they were created by design because he was supposedly the last shard or sliver of Adonalsium they did not believe him. This could draw parallels to the RoW Dog and the Dragon story and go beyond Kaladin’s relation to it. “The image of the dog in the rain felt far too familiar to Kaladin. Far too personal.”
He had to prove his existence and give him the experience by killing him. Adonalsium understood he could experience through Invesititure, living through the Shards subsequent creations since they’d need something to reference when creating.
WoR: “I’ll address this letter to my “old friend,” as I have no idea what name you’re using currently. Have you given up on the gemstone, now that it is dead? And do you no longer hide behind the name of your old master?... The worlds you now tread bear the touch and design of Adonalsium.”
I think when Adonalsium was shattered he became the God Beyond to experience his creations and part of his soul in a sense stayed separated which could keep Yolen still existing but not necessarily aging. This could explain why Frost is functionally immortal, he can’t physically age, but his soul can be killed. Adonalsium is far Beyond from his creations. But by doing this no character in the Cosmere knows what the Beyond is and now they can only speculate on his existence and his nature. Rysn is one character that has come to understand this nature of awareness and creation.
Dawnshard: “You were brought here, she thought to herself, by one of the Guardians of Ancient Sins.
Of course she had been. That made sense.
Wait. Did it?”
When Rysn interacts with the Dawnshard she immediately understands her journey was “fabricated” to get to this point.
“Naturally. All that nonsense on the surface of the island? Distractions. Intended to keep anyone from looking for this.”
Upon being made to understand Rysn sees the “real” conflict occurring on the island as nonsense. Being aware that the belief of the conflict and consequences they go through are important prevents someone from seeing the way Rysn is currently seeing things.
“They clung to a secret that was escaping despite their best efforts. As Vstim had taught her, she saw through their eyes. Felt their fears, their loss, their uncertainty.”
“Don’t give them what they say they want, she thought. Give them what they need.”
With the Dawnshard now inside of her, she deconstructs these characters by discerning they can't have what they want on the surface. Give them what they really need, not the lies they use to protect themselves but the truth. Acting out the will of a god.
“It was then that she grasped, in the smallest way, the nature of the Command inside her. The will of a god to remake things, to demand they be better. The power to change.”
Characters can learn his name and understand his nature to an extent like Rysn, but they truly can’t know him unless they returned to him. Then they’d know what lies in the Beyond. But we as readers know that will never be revealed. Adonalsium or the God Beyond can exist in an unknown location that the people of the Cosmere are drawn to after they die, beyond their world knowing whats real and whats fake. That is the nature of the creator of the Cosmere, Brandon Sanderson. Because he created it, he could not truly live in it, only inserting a part of himself in his creations. This goes far beyond just Brandon Sanderson but to actual creators in our world. That is why I can see it as self-referential, but it’s not just him.
It doesn’t stop here. Hoid’s motivation might support this.
Hoid cannot reforge Adonalsium because if he does the characters would be robbed of their beliefs about what they perceive is real, that’s something that cannot happen. Sanderson supports this as he’s gone on the record saying he wouldn’t join up with Hoid’s cause. (6)
That’s why I think the support is in the truth that could be parsed out in every belief in the Cosmere.
WoR: "Long ago, there was only One. One knew everything, but had experienced nothing. And do, One became many-us, people. The One, who is both male and female, did so to experience all things…Eventually, all will be gathered back in- when the Seventh Land is attained- and we will once again become one… As Many, they need ignorance. Each fragment of the One’s mind has its own body with different passions and inclinations. They exist in variety to experience all kinds of thought. That means some people must know and others must not.”
And that’s why there’s some that believe there should be no interference… causing divergence in the outcome of a belief like this.
“You will not find a way to restore what you have lost, old friend,” the aged man said softly. ”It is impossible.”
“You don’t know that. The old rules no longer hold.”
Hoid lost something to him and now he’s willing to do anything to restore something, but he doesn’t realize he’s fighting a losing battle.
Brandon Sanderson (Adonalsium) has to sacrifice his self-insert so his stories cannot be destroyed. So, he sent a savior to make that possible (Hoid). But to make his stories possible his savior had to know the difference between what’s real and what’s fake.
What does that sound like? A being who claims to know the truth and was supposed to have walked among us. But he knew we had to sacrifice him so we could live on eternally.
Sanderson's beliefs could heavily inspire this because realizing this world is not the "real one" is an important part of Christianity. To know this in the belief, you have to experience the world. Christians experience the good and the bad which is also experienced through every story in the Cosmere. To be able to know what’s real you have to create something that is fake. Sanderson creates stories we know are fictional because we live in the real world. But while this could have influenced Sanderson’s premise there is a major twist. Overall, creators which apply to Brandon Sanderson (Adonalsium) are truly separated from their creations. If Sanderson is “playing God” by creating a fictional world they can never truly know him. By possibly referencing himself or creators he can let us ponder on how much creators in real life are eternally separate from their works and how it impacts their works living on. But since Investiture originates from Adonalsium the creator does in a sense still live on inside of them while not all the way being the way there, they can put a piece of themselves in their work. So, was the “mind” truly separated from the “soul” when Adonalsium was shattered?
Thus, his characters must fight to stop him from being reforged and becoming "one" with Adonalsium then they'd have no agency. They have to gain “eternal life” by stopping Hoid. Going off the Christian belief God wants eternal life for his creations. Their Connection (soul) and Intent (mind or will) cannot be severed even though that’s not how they might be initially understood now by characters. They start to become interchangeable and vital to existence.
ES: “You imply that the wall has a soul.” “All things do,” she said. “Each object sees itself as something. Connection and intent are vital.”
The Shards take up the role of creators but in the end, they are the same as the beings they created. Just a vessel of Investiture and Intent. Characters in the Cosmere are not restricted from interacting and knowing the Shards that play a major impact in their life unlike Adonalsium. They now created “forgery” based on what they could gather through a singular intent of Adonalsium’s nature and ability since their mere presence leads to a Perpendicularity that pierces all the realms.
ES: “To Forge the table, I must understand it as a whole.”
But what their singular intent creates is a distorted replicant of Adonalsium’s ability and what helped create the original Yolen. But regardless what the Shards created are the character’s reality but that doesn’t mean everyone would see it that way. The Shards created worlds referencing Adonalsium’s design which can be seen as forgery. And again, Emperor’s Soul conflict presents this theme…
ES: “No. You copy other people’s great art. What you do is technically marvelous, yet completely lacking in spirit.”
What the Shards created could be lacking to Hoid is soul, since he is a product of Yolen, he was present and believed in this mind and soul split and has seen its consequences.
ES: “A Forger had to create something so perfect, so beautiful, so real that their subjects never questioned.”
The rest of the Cosmere could just be the other side of the coin to him but they wouldn’t initially realize since they are a byproduct of the Shard’s forgery.
ES: “That a life full of lying makes reality and falsehood intermix.”
Also, the way this is presented could give us insight into the main conflict of the last era of the Cosmere, Mistborn Era 4. If characters believe Hoid is doing something capable of killing them all some would surely try to stop him. Something that could doom what they perceive as all 3 realms could be a threat. And with the stories/worlds mixing now you have people like Kelsier becoming more and more Cosmere aware to save their own lives. And this only frustrates Hoid.
SH: “I’m sorry, Survivor, for the rough treatment,” Drifter continued. “But you are not supposed to be here. You did what I needed you to, but you’re a wild card I’d rather not deal with right now.” He paused. “If it’s any consolation, you should feel proud. It’s been centuries since anyone got the drop on me.”
That’s why it's important Hoid was tricked in RoW. Up until Kelsier’s appearance, no one had gotten the drop on Hoid. But now that’s no longer true, Todium has. Who came before them? I believe it was Adonalsium, he tricked Hoid into the same trick he tried with Todium with in RoW. This could completely recontextualize the Shattering. Hoid did what he was supposed to, believing he’d receive something in return. And as Hoid helps our characters in RoW create a deal that could beat the Odium they knew; he speaks from experience…
RoW: “I once knew a man,” Wit said, “who was the finest gambler in all his realm. Where he lived, you make your cards walk themselves around the table by breathing life into them. He was the best. Intelligent, skilled with the Breath of life, a shrewd gambler—he knew exactly how to bet and when. Everyone was waiting for the day when he lost. And eventually he did.”
“That’s different, Wit,” Jasnah said. “He couldn’t literally see the future.”
“Ah, but you see, I was rigging the games. So I did know the future—as much as Odium does, anyway. I shouldn’t have been able to lose. Yet I did.”
Hoid changes the perspective when Jasnah comments he could not see the future. He explains he was rigging the game for the gambler. He knew what the result would be, a “loss” for Adonalsium that resulted in his shattering.
“Someone else rigged the game so that no matter what move I made, I could not win. The game was a tie, something I hadn’t anticipated. I’d focused my cheating on making certain I didn’t lose, but I’d bet on myself winning. And I bet it all, you see—if I’d have been more clever, I’d have let less be lost.”
Hoid rigged the games to help them win but in reality, he also lost too. Hoid brings up a third party, “someone else” intervened in his rigging that aligns with how I think he’s possibly doomed to fail in reaching his overarching goal. Hoid can never truly win, and he even says it’s something he never saw coming. That holds true now because he knows where he should be but that doesn’t explain exactly why or what happens. He’s in the same boat, someone with the awareness but not the ability to actually see the future. But to any other character his vast knowledge, seeming immortality, and inferred guess on what is going to occur comes off as knowing the future. Hoid gave us a glimpse at this when he was heavily involved in Roshar’s fight against Odium in RoW because he knew how important it was.
He doesn’t hide how much this means to him, but his word choice shows that he can only desire the sense of assurance, not certainty.
RoW: “If you give Odium this contract—and get me the assurance that he cannot break free of this planetary system no matter what happens—”
Dalinar even mentions he’d never seen Wit as serious as he had during this time of problem-solving during the war. Hoid’s actions and words only emphasize how important this all is to what he’s trying to accomplish so he stops observing and intervenes.
OB: “These [people] know they can’t stop the boulder. So, they walk beside it, study it, and bide their time. Then they shove it—ever so slightly—to create a deviation in its path.”
But he no longer has the assurance he asks of Dalinar, Todium could end up leaving this planetary system in Stormlight 5. Adonalsium can now have him beat, but it didn’t always seem that way.
But it all cannot happen without Hoid, I see him as the key.
I believe there are several instances in Hoid’s appearances, interactions with characters and even things said to us readers that give us insight into his nature, and foreshadow his goals, and what he knows which only support this overarching theory. Hoid bestows this same awareness at times to the characters in the Cosmere. I think it’s necessary for all that happens to even occur but knowing how Hoid is this always isn’t the case.
WoR: “So you’re just here,” Kaladin said, “to mock me?”
“Well, it’s kind of what I do. But I’ll go easy on you. I wouldn’t want you to go flying off on me.”
Kaladin jolted with a start.
“You know,” Wit said, nonchalant, “flying off in an angry tirade. That kind of thing.”
Kaladin narrowed his eyes at the tall lighteyed man. “What do you know?”
“Almost everything. That almost part can be a real kick in the teeth sometimes.” The emphasis on “almost” is so important.
I think Sanderson consistently presents him like a discrete self-insert character would in Cosmere stories and characters react accordingly
WoK: “Wit sat on a raised stool at the end of the bridge leading onto the island. Wit actually dressed as a lighteyes should—he wore a stiff black uniform, silver sword at his waist. Dalinar shook his head at the irony.”
Sanderson writes Hoid in a way that makes it no secret that the “characters” he lives among should, be skeptical of him, fearful of him and even hate him.
WoR: “Don’t try to understand Wit, Bordin. You’ll only cause yourself pain.”
One of the most of unforgettable things Hoid has said is he’s willing to see their world crumble despite even tears. And in a deleted scene in Emperor’s Soul, he doesn’t hide his anticipation for a character’s death…
“It’s the principle of the thing, I suspect,” the Fool said, still sounding amused. How wonderful that her life, and its impending end, could bring pleasure to the Imperial Fool.
That’s why whenever he accepts deprecating comments and insults from the characters while they’re humorous, I see there’s truth in them…
WoR: “Hugging him is like hugging a whitespine or, or a pile of nails or something. I mean it’s Wit. You’re not supposed to like him.”
He clearly sees the justification whether they fully realize why they would hate him or not.
We saw this recently in RoW…
“I, Jasnah, am someone who is not bound.”
“I feel,” she said, “like I should be terrified by that statement.”
“That’s why I’m so fond of you,” he said. “You are poised, you are smart, and you are always ready with a ploy; but when each of those things fails you, Jasnah, you are—above all else—paranoid.”
“I hate you.”
“Rayse, dear,” Wit said, “you’re supposed to be an idiot. Say intelligent things like that too much, and I’ll need to reevaluate.
What Todium did at the end of RoW may have helped doomed Hoid. That’s why Sanderson initially made us fixate on what happened was either real or fake. (Even though it is confirmed he was tricked) That theme seems to be repeatedly presenting itself. To take Hoid's memories or knowledge (even temporarily) that powers his awareness of “almost everything” takes away all the leverage he has over the characters. That’s why Hoid’s point about reevaluating seems like more than a joke. If someone exhibited real hatred because they truly understand him, they might’ve got the jump on him. Especially dangerous if its someone with as much influence as a Shard. And we know Todium finding a way to get freedom from this lose-lose contest that was made is Hoid’s worst nightmare.
The justification of this disdain continues in Oathbringer also...
“Be wary of anyone who claims to be able to see the future, Shallan.”
“Except you, of course. Didn’t you say you can see where you need to be?”
“Be wary,” he repeated, “of anyone who claims to be able to see the future, Shallan.”
OB: “How many people need to love a piece of art to make it worthwhile? If you’re inevitably going to inspire hate, then how much enjoyment is needed to balance out the risk?”
“He eventually squatted next to Kheni, who still rocked her empty cradle, staring with haunted eyes across the square…He smiled at the little girl.”
“Your teeth look funny today,” she said to him.
“I take exception to that, as the funny part is not the teeth, but the lack of tooth.” He held out his hand to her, but she ducked back in.”
“I can’t leave Mama,” she whispered.
“I understand,” Wit said. He took the rags and cord he’d worked with earlier, forming them into the shape of a little doll. “The answer to the question has been bothering me for some time.”
The little face poked out again, looking at the doll. “The question?”
“I asked it earlier,” Wit said. “You couldn’t hear. Do you know the answer?”
“Right answer, but wrong question.
He carried the girl back to the square, then quietly pushed the empty cradle away from Kheni and knelt before her. “I think, in answer to my question … I think it only takes one.”
Kheni’s husband took him by the arm, smiling. “Can you not stay a little longer?”
“I should think you are the first to ever ask me that, Cob,” Wit said. “And in truth, the sentiment frightens me.” He hesitated, then leaned down and touched the doll in the child’s hands. “Forget what I told you before,” he whispered. “Instead, take care of her.”
Instead of continuing to ponder the bigger questions of existence and creation Hoid could be posing he then tells the child to focus on their life. It’s beneficial for him to not be truly understood or even acknowledged at times.
“Thousands of years ago, he’d shared a dance with her [Vatwha]. Like all the others, she’d later been trained to watch for him.”
“But not well enough. As he passed underneath, she gave him the barest of glances. He decided not to take that as an insult, as it was what he wanted. He needed to be soup so bland, it was water. What a conundrum. In this case, his art was best when ignored.”
“Perhaps he would need to revise his philosophy.”
But Hoid cannot keep up this act of not being taken seriously forever. He also clearly prides himself on his art of storytelling that brings awareness to whoever he tells it to. This was shown in RoW.
“I am an artist,” Wit said. “I should thank you not to demean me by insisting my art must be trying to accomplish something. In fact, you shouldn’t enjoy art. You should simply admit that it exists, then move on. Anything else is patronizing.”
“Kaladin nodded, standing up again. He realized that somehow, the story fired him up. He felt stronger, less for the words and more for how annoyed he’d grown at Wit”
All this tells me Hoid doesn’t want them to be fully aware, or at least right now. Because if they did, they could impede his current plan in motion.
ES: “Plausibility was key to any forgery, magical or not.” and… “The more people who know of a Forgery, the more likely it is to fail.”
One of Hoid’s most common activities is telling stories, making comparisons or asking questions the characters can relate or ponder which propels them forward in the story. And every time he has there seems to be significant implications. It also gives us a peek into his true identity and motives.
Let’s look at the Way of Kings and Kaladin’s current journey as whole…
“But how would we know it? Did Derethil and his men return?”
“Some stories say they did.”
“But how could they? The highstorms only blow one direction.”
“Then I guess the story is a lie.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“No, I said it. Fortunately, it’s the best kind of lie.”
“And what kind is that?”
“Why, the kind I tell, of course.” Hoid laughed, then kicked out the fire, grinding the last of the coals beneath his heel. It didn’t really seem there had been enough fuel to make the smoke Kaladin had seen.
Kaladin immediately searches for the truth, searching for the real answer from the story Hoid tells, and immediately rejects what Hoid suggests because what he knows is real about Roshar. Hoid then follows up with an action that doesn’t make sense to Kaladin. Some things Hoid says or does to him when he’s not telling a story feels like a lie to him. And when someone’s words and actions fit together you tend to believe them.
But what happens when Hoid leaves Kaladin so he can maneuver through what occurs in the rest of the story?
“I don’t like him,” Syl’s voice said suddenly, coming from behind. “He’s strange.”
Kaladin spun to find her on the boulder, sitting where Hoid had been a moment ago.
“Syl!” Kaladin said. “How long have you been here?”
She shrugged. “You were watching the story. I didn’t want to interrupt.” She sat with hands in her lap, looking uncomfortable.
After hearing the Wandersail story that he relates to Kaladin has the awareness to parse out a lesson he can apply to his current situation. This propels him forward for the rest of the Way of Kings. But during the course of all of this he somehow lost track of where Syl was. Syl, a symbol and companion in his real life. We know Hoid’s existence threatens Cosmere characters, but Syl feels uncomfortable around him when Hoid does what he does best, give them the awareness of what is real and what’s fake through a story. I believe Hoid makes her feel uncomfortable because Hoid’s goal could threaten her existence as a spren. Spren’s existence are fragments of the powers of creation given purpose in the physical realm through beings on Roshar. Humans abandoning their belief in the Cognitive aspects that shape spren whether forcefully or voluntarily means there would be dangerous consequences for them. That’s why I think it’s more than mere coincidence we also have the Recreance subplot in SA, it focuses on restoring the relationships between spren and our characters in the physical realm. Our characters are doomed to suffer unless they Unite across realms. And Hoid could be bringing this fight to all three realms, making every inhabitant fearful, and uncomfortable.
I also think that there is a lot of significance in Hoid giving the Trailman’s flute to Kaladin after he’s done telling him the story. After making Kaladin take a break from the “real” world and immerse in a seemingly “false” story for a second the opportunity is there to interpret what he wants from the story for his real life. Kaladin tries to reject the flute, but he leaves him with the flute anyways. A symbol that could stand for that while Kaladin believes the experiences, he goes through are real today he may eventually have the same awareness Hoid has about life currently and be able to also tell stories like him. Which could give even more significance to the question asked by Kaladin.
“How would a man tell a story while playing the flute?”
Hoid can because through his knowledge he can discern the truth from the lies and use that for his advantage. But Kaladin continues to think in WoR he cannot care about keeping track of the flute and survive.
"Kaladin had left the flute behind. When he had gathered the bridgemen left in Sadeas’s camp—the wounded from Bridge Four, and the members of the other bridge crews—he’d been focused on people, not things. He hadn’t bothered with his little bundle of possessions, forgetting that the flute was among them."
Hoid even passed this knowledge on to a friend Kaladin interacts with, Sigzil. It could be very important that the fruit of this training manifests in him questioning the character’s reality in WoR.
“I’m not implying anything,” Sigzil said, turning toward Kaladin. “My master trained me to ask questions, so I’m asking them.
In RoW, there’s Kaladin’s lowest moment of the entire series, Hoid extends a hand to him to help him. Kaladin this time asks him to tell a story. He does this because he knows what the effect is, something that may or may not be real with a lesson or a truth that could move him forward.
The Cryptic held up a flute, and Kaladin recognized it. “Your flute!” he said. “You found it?” “This is a dream, idiot,” Wit said. “It’s not real.” “Oh,” Kaladin said. “Right.”
With Kaladin near death the flute appears again in my opinion, as something symbolic. Like I said before I believe the flute represents the truth a character like Kaladin can receive when he passes on. There’s no way he could have found the physical flute if Kaladin believes it was lost or just didn’t care about its whereabouts. Hoid also wasn’t the one to bring it to Kaladin’s attention, it’s his bonded Cryptic. I brought up earlier how his goal could threaten three realms as they know it so it only makes even more sense that if Hoid has to a bond a spren for his goal there would be inherent discord between them. The Cryptic amusingly disrupts Hoid’s storytelling art to Kaladin while he’s in the midst of it, and this was one example.
Hoid snapping at Kaladin to perceive the flute as not real could be a blunt but subtle way to get him away from entirely giving up. The story of the Dog and Dragon does end up working because Kaladin initially pressed for a point to be deciphered to him. “Kaladin nodded, standing up again. He realized that somehow, the story fired him up. He felt stronger, less for the words and more for how annoyed he’d grown at Wit”
Kaladin keeps moving forward and survives.
Let’s look to Shallan’s experiences.
Shallan’s character is the personification of struggling with truth, deceit and maintaining a singular self that she sees as the real her. So, her interactions with Hoid conveys how his activities have major impact on the perception of truths and falsehoods. We get a glimpse of the consequences and learn more about him overall when they interact.
This can be seen when Hoid tells her the story of the two blind men and makes her imagine the most beautiful thing.
“She blinked tears. She saw it. Stormfather, but she saw it. She heard her mother’s voice, saw Jushu giving up spheres to Balat as he lost the duel, but laughing as he paid, uncaring of the loss. She could feel the air, smell the scents, hear the sounds of songlings in the brush. Almost, it became real.
Wisps of Light rose before her. The messenger had gotten out a handful of spheres and held them toward her while staring into her eyes. The steamy Stormlight rose between them. Shallan lifted her fingers, the image of her ideal life wrapped around her like a comforter.
She drew back. The misty light faded.
“I see,” the messenger said softly. “You do not yet understand the nature of lies. I had that trouble myself, long ago. The Shards here are very strict. You will have to see the truth, child, before you can expand upon it. Just as a man should know the law before he breaks it.”
Shallan is not ready yet and Hoid is disappointed but understands because she is merely another Cosmere character that to him that doesn’t know “almost everything” as he does. I think it’s significant she shows she’s not ready the moment Hoid presents Investiture to her. The Shards are responsible for creating someone like Shallan, but that’s not something he had to bring up. If he feels Investiture is what keeps them latched onto their life. It makes sense she cannot truly face any truth he guides toward her, at least yet. And to Hoid apparently, he ONLY knew the nature of truth at some point. Now that he knows the rules, he breaks the laws with the nature of lies. So, I think it’s significant he could be describing his Yolen self, a self not understanding the attachment a person has to the “lies” they hold dearly.
Understanding the nature of truth lets him see through Shallan’s disguises in Oathbringer.
“That’s a nice illusion,” Wit said. “You got the back of the head right. People always flub the back. You’ve broken character though. You’re walking like a prim lighteyes, which looks silly in that costume. You’ll only be able to pull off a coat and hat if you own them.”
“I know,” she said, grimacing. “The persona … fled once you recognized me.”
Shallan tries to understand what Hoid truly is by comparing him to a singular identity like a Herald, that is something she can fathom. But that doesn’t work of course.
She eyed him. It was always hard to tell which of Wit’s exaggerations were supposed to mean something and which were confusing distractions. “Then what are you?”
“Some men, as they age, grow kinder. I am not one of those, for I have seen how the cosmere can mistreat the innocent—and that leaves me disinclined toward kindness. Some men, as they age, grow wiser. I am not one of those, for wisdom and I have always been at cross-purposes, and I have yet to learn the tongue in which she speaks. Some men, as they age, grow more cynical. I, fortunately, am not one of those. If I were, the very air would warp around me, sucking in all emotion, leaving only scorn.”
He tapped the table. “Other men … other men, as they age, merely grow stranger. I fear that I am one of those. I am the bones of a foreign species left drying on the plain that was once, long ago, a sea. A curiosity, perhaps a reminder, that all has not always been as it is now.”
The longer he “ages” in this realm of the Cosmere, the stranger he is seen by someone like Shallan. I believe his comparison to a “foreign species” shows his presence in every story can be a reminder that the current Cosmere in nature is very different from Yolen’s original nature. Because the only time he fits in is when he chooses to. He even basically says if his past made him cynical everything around him would be left with contempt. And that is something previously shown that he still expects in the future and tries to avoid it as of now. So, he exists as an ally to our Stormlight main characters right now but still makes sure to subtly drop hints about the events that changed Yolen’s nature which made the Cosmere as Shallan knows it. Nonetheless in the context of her journey, it’s still put in a way that she needs to hear regardless of how she takes it.
“You want to change the world, Shallan. That’s well and good. But be careful. The world predates you. She has seniority.”
While their conversations are beneficial Shallan and Hoid experience a clash in values. Seeing as they’re two different “species” to one of them.
“Power is the ability to make life better or worse for the people around you.”
“And yourself too, of course.”
“I don’t matter.”
“Selflessness is a Vorin virtue, Wit.”
“Oh, bother that. You’ve got to live life, Shallan, enjoy life. Drink of what you’re proposing to give everyone else! That’s what I do.”
“You … do seem to enjoy yourself a great deal.”
“I like to live every day like it’s my last.”
Hoid has kept it no secret that his goal is also for himself while he is changing the world with his powers. And as we see sometimes, he’s willing to bestow it to our characters. Shallan disagrees with this use of power and reminds him of a belief of people on HER planet. But she’s shown that living the way Hoid does seems as if it is very freeing and done with urgency. It’s living with a constant reminder that your reality could end so you act true to yourself. And selflessness is a way of denying yourself.
Nearing the last stretch of Oathbringer, Hoid’s story of the Girl Who Looked Up arrives at the perfect time for Shallan.
"Everywhere she trod, death haunted her. Every face she wore was a lie to pretend she could stop it."
"Couldn’t she be somebody who didn’t hurt, just once?"
“Have you heard the story of the Girl Who Looked Up?”
“It’s a story from long ago,” Wit said. He cupped his hands around the sphere on the floor. “Things were different in that time…
By the end, things are looking up…
“She felt … better. Not well yet. It was all still there. But something about Wit’s words …I see only one woman here. The one who is standing up”.
She began chapter 82 confused by her lies and seeing the suffering it caused. Hoid’s approach with Kaladin in other books works here too. By the time she exits the story and enters the “real world” again, she feels better, but not perfect because it’s still her journey to experience. She no longer sees her lies, just truth, and Hoid again gave the clarity to discern this through all the lies.
And by the end of RoW Shallan’s growth drives her to be ready to confront the Ghostbloods, a now common enemy to Hoid since Kelsier leads them.
I think through Adolin’s and Dalinar’s perspectives we get overt or subtle glimpses into Hoid’s motives and nature through their reactions that convey their significance. In Hoid’s first appearance in Way of Kings he immediately challenges a character’s perception. Adolin’s view on people doesn’t fit with Hoid, he doesn’t fit into Roshar’s categories
“Wit nodded to them as he approached, wearing one of those keen smiles of his. He had blue eyes, but he wasn’t really a lighteyes. Nor was he a darkeyes. He was…well, he was the King’s Wit. That was a category all its own.”
“Ah, young Prince Adolin!” Wit exclaimed. “You actually managed to pry yourself away from the camp’s young women long enough to join this hunt? I’m impressed.”
Adolin chuckled uncomfortably. “Well, that’s been a topic of some discussion lately….”
Wit raised an eyebrow.
Adolin sighed. Wit would find out eventually anyway—it was virtually impossible to keep anything from the man.”
Hoid shows off that he knows “almost everything” aside from the part where discussions have been had about Adolin’s mishaps with Roshar’s women. I think it’s hard to see how this would be common knowledge to a character that nobody seems to take very seriously and have disdain for due to his mockery of their intelligence and appearance.
"Wit leaned in to Adolin. “Have I told you about the night Prince Renarin and I had two days back, walking the streets of the warcamp? We came across these two sisters, you see, blue eyed and—”
“That’s a lie!” Renarin said, blushing.
This could be seen as a stretch, but I find it amusing that a character we end up finding out that can see the future goes at Hoid when he knows what he’s about to tell a lie and Dalinar even mentions before this Renarin was determined not to say anything to him. In response, Dalinar defends his son from Hoid’s lies but this elicits some truth from Hoid that we see manifests later.
“Perhaps you should restrict your mockery to those who deserve it.”
“Brightlord Dalinar. I believe that was what I was doing.”
“Those who ‘deserve’ my mockery are those who can benefit from it, Brightlord Dalinar. That one is less fragile than you think him.” He winked, then turned his horse to move on over the bridge.
Hoid immediately challenges Renarin’s oath of silence by making him interrupt his lies to Adolin. Someone smart enough to anticipate Hoid’s lies through silence is clearly a good foil to him. That’s why he’s the only character to “deserve” this kind of treatment and I think that’s why this hint to Dalinar makes us look back and perceive Hoid as someone knowing almost everything. Hoid acknowledging Renarin as an equal adversary adds a layer to his comment about him becoming the new King’s Wit if Sadeas finally killed him. He does “seem to have the mind for it.” as Hoid says.
The FIRST TIME Hoid is conveying a serious tone is when he eventually brings up Adonalsium to Dalinar in WoK. And to no surprise Dalinar does not understand what Wit is saying before he brings Adonalsium up.
Wit’s eyes narrowed, and he scanned the night sky. “It’s been happening for months now. A whirlwind. Shifting and churning, blowing us round and around. Like a world spinning, but we can’t see it because we’re too much a part of it.”
“World spinning. What foolishness is this?”
“The foolishness of men who care, Dalinar,” Wit said. “And the brilliance of those who do not. The second depend on the first—but also exploit the first—while the first misunderstand the second, hoping that the second are more like the first. And all of their games steal our time. Second by second.”
What Hoid is probably saying here is their planet Roshar continues to change and evolve, and big changes are coming to the Cosmere as a result. The men who care (all the characters in the Cosmere that don’t have the same knowledge/awareness as Hoid) cause this “spinning” or evolution. Hoid is the brilliant one that seems like he doesn’t care but he does. Hoid DEPENDS on the gears of Stormlight turning to reach his goal. If it didn’t, I don’t see why’d he’d help the characters the way he does (like helping create the contest of champions conditions). But in reality, he’s exploiting them for his future motivations. These men who care about what’s going on their planet don’t understand him but wish he was more like them. Hoid is whimsical and seems to care little about what goes on in their lives and all his previously mentioned appearances support this to me, from their comments to how he dresses, fits in and talks.
“Wit,” Dalinar said with a sigh. “I haven’t the mind for this tonight. I’m sorry if I’m missing your intent, but I have no idea what you mean.”
“I know,” Wit said, then looked directly at him. “Adonalsium.”
Dalinar frowned more deeply. “What?”
Wit searched his face. “Have you ever heard the term, Dalinar?”
Wit IMMEDIATELY interjects and follows up with Adonalsium AFTER Dalinar acts like one of the first men he’s talking about when he doesn’t understand Hoid’s initial point about foolishness. A term Dalinar cannot even fathom, but the brilliant Hoid knows. And right after this, he reveals one of his real names, Hoid. Then as he leaves we are seeing him communicate his nature as we’ve all come to know in one piece of dialogue.
“Watch yourself; Sadeas is planning a revelation at the feast tonight, though I know not what it is. Farewell. I’m sorry I didn’t insult you more.”
Lastly, I don’t think it’s a coincidence due to all of these self-insert type traits and interactions whenever Hoid refers to the character’s experiences that are real to them they are seen as stories.
WoK: “It’s a constant source of amazement that you get yourself into such messes, Adolin. Each one is more exciting than the previous!”
“Er, yes. Exciting. That’s exactly how it feels.”
WoR: “What do you want,” Kaladin said, trying to speak more precisely, “from me?”
“Ah, so you’re thinking. Good. From you, my friend, I want one thing. A story.”
“What kind of story?”
“That is for you to decide.” Wit smiled at him. “I hope it will be dynamic. If there is one thing I cannot stomach, it is boredom.
But of course, they’d never see it that way.
While I believe my theory has evidence that can be referenced in many of his stories I think we are too far behind in understanding Investiture in the Cosmere at this moment to answer how Hoid exactly could’ve gotten to this self-insert role aside from the things he’s said and done. Because I believed my theory fits thematically, I referenced evidence that is there for us but only can be resolved when we truly understand “almost everything” that has been presented to us about the magic system and the rules of the past. Dragonsteel seems like it can be that resolution as it will provide the necessary context to thrust Hoid into the main character spotlight in the last Mistborn Era.
I can only speculate what the result of what we might see in Dragonsteel is based on what Brandon Sanderson has told us, has written, and what we know about him as fans. But I do know one thing Hoid has told us…“The old rules dont apply now”
The only person not in the story that knows what the old rules were is Adonalsium.
And Brandon Sanderson is the one person not in the story that will be able to tell us what these old rules were.