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Monsters and Mistborn

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I don't know if I am just very late into Mistborn characters' morality discussions or if these things were really just sadly overlooked. While Stormlight characters have multiple topics analyzing them, I've found very few doing the same for Mistborn characters, with Kelsier being the one notable exception.

There have been previous topics discussing Kelsier in this context such as:

https://www.reddit.com/r/Mistborn/comments/7t5rdz/tfe_i_was_disappointed_in_the_ending/

My thoughts regarding the same, well, I think that the stakes as well as the context for his hatred made his actions quite understandable: the Nobles were gits, who practiced extortion, slavery, rape and mass executions.

Kelsier intended to die and with his plans with the Kandra, to inspire the Skaa via the one element that Sazed recounted lasted the longest against the Lord Ruler: religion. He did have a very high opinion of himself and wanted to leave quite the legacy behind by becoming a god, he ultimately had no concrete plans for dealing with the Lord Ruler or the Inquisitors, and what he did could be seen as a form of escapism. Does this make him a bad person?

I was talking with @Michael Marssen regarding the morality of characters from Stormlight and Mistborn, about Shallan & Dalinar, and the big four of the original Mistborn trilogy: Vin, Elend, Kelsier, Sazed. I will quote my thoughts on Kel, Vin and Elend from this conversation for expediency's sake

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Kelsier, as we saw him in TFE and SH had developed rogueishness as a genuine character trait! His hatred of Nobles was understandable. And honestly after that child skaa beggar at the party execution and fountain execution scenes with the bored nobles, I just wanted him to go on a rampage! Like the state of the skaa plantations as told in the beginning wasn't enough! As Vin later states though, he and his crew were never really any less dismissive of skaa either. Kelsier & co. felt for them, yes, but they also used them without regards for them as fellow human beings. I also felt that he actually felt just as adrift as he felt driven, and that it was part of the reason why he was so focused on the mission. He felt empty. I remember thinking that Mare did betray him & that was why she gave her piece of Atium to him, out of guilt. I think he thought the same too, to some degree, otherwise he wouldn't have said this: "Do you stop loving someone just because they betray you? I don't think so. That's what makes the betrayal hurt so much—pain, frustration, anger... and I still loved her. I still do."

Then of course we see that the Lord Ruler was simply that powerful that her being a Misting was what got them caught. His dynamics with Leras were heartwrenching. When he realized it was Leras who told him to "survive", or when he felt his agony...

~Stormlight, Oathbringer spoiler~

Spoiler

It's strange seeing Kelsier being condemned for instigating the Skaa rebellion for his own quest for vengeance and accusing him for indirectly causing the deaths of Yeden & his men

At the same young Dalinar gets a free pass for being far, far more bloodthirsty and only getting cool points

But there has already been enough discussion on this character. So, I won't rehash those and instead move on two other characters who I believe should also be discussed within the same frame: the main couple, Vin & Elend

 

Vin

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Vin - found her storyline very sad. She was able to Ascend to Preservation because of not only her desire to protect but her desire for things not changing due to the constant upheaval of her life. Her earring was Ruin's connection to her and granting her Hemalurgic Seeker powers from her baby sister's murder by their own mother. Then Reen took her and left. Since, they were the Prelan's bastard offspring they were always hunted. Till one day Reen left and never came back, finally completely breaking Vin to whom we meet in Book 1. Reen's another tragic character people rarely talk about. Vin sees him as embittered and thinks that while he felt responsible for her, maybe even loved her, she never felt loved by him. But he died under torture while never revealing her existence to the Inquisitors. Reen possibly felt some resentment towards her for having to go through their even harsher than other skaa's lifestyle. The constant running and hiding may have been part of why Vin ended up being so taken in by the Nobles' balls, it was one of the most beautiful things she had ever seen, yes, but this was also the first time she felt like she existed to others and had to prove herself by her own merits (Vin acknowledges that Kelsier's Crew would never have even looked at her twice if she hadn't lucked out as being born a Mistborn). The nobles felt curious about her, she didn't have to actively try to appear unnoticeable to them (like with the thieves crew), she couldn't and she didn't want to. They didn't know she was a Mistborn, so it wasn't blind (inborn) luck either. This is why she hates Shan Elariel as much as she did. She didn't want to admit it, but the shallow acquaintances were the first people she had interacted with on her own terms, even if she was technically disguised. Well, also she met Elend there. I also feel that her morality was always just as questionable as Kelsier's, if not more, it was just that she wasn't actively prejudiced against a group. She slaughtered the Cett soldiers but spared Cett himself, for instance. Huh, thinking about those books also made me realize how little Vin and TenSoon got to interact with each other. Vin didn't know of his real identity rather than as OreSeur till near the end. He felt honestly much more connected to her than she did to him. Still stings that TenSoon didn't manage to reach her at the end. I am going to ignore her storyline with Zane (eugh) except commenting that was another emotional upheaval she had to face. Admitting the Mistborn side of her and how much she liked the adrenaline rush of a fight. I really like how alert yet reactive she seemed. She was remarkably passive until provoked but then she basically turned into a wild animal. I also liked her identity crisis as Vin the thief, the Mistborn, Valette Renoux the noble and how each and every one of them were masks she wore. I'll also note than Vin wasn't a great ruler, as Allrianne also pointed out, she should've been doing more than acting as the royal executioner / assassin

Vin notes herself to be a creature of instinct and in WoA muses that she isn't a judge but an executioner... or something along those lines, I forget the exact quote.

The highlight here is her wholesale slaughter of the Cett soldiers while sparing only Ashweather Cett himself, intending to also kill his son Gneorndin for trying to defend his father.

Elend

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Elend honestly annoyed me in TFE. That comment about skaa intelligence was infuriating! And the naïvète! Formal complaint to the Lord Ruler and going to Kredik Shaw to protest Vin's imprisonment were monumentally stupid moments. In WoA though, I grew to like him (I imagine almost everyone did) but that moment he got acknowledged as the leader, when everyone turned to him for his judgement because of his honesty, really sticks out. The vote scene really cemented him as the MVP by the sheer act of the other contestants for his throne turning to him, trusting his judgement, was hilarious. Though it was as much an event of Cett's manipulations, it says something about Elend's character that Cett's entire plot hinged on Elend's strength of character. We see this again when he is willing to bleed out by the Well of Ascension and later at the finalé of Hero of Ages when he lets himself be killed by Marsh-as-Ruin. I always felt a bit iffy about his total control over the military. Those two executions: first of his former friend for his stupidity in bringing the Koloss army and the second one of a soldier for insubordination, as well as his final command to the Atium Seers at the end of HoA cements his potential for political charisma, propaganda and brutality, (but rust and Ruin were the stakes high!)

I could honestly understand when neither chose to stick around after death. Vin wasn't just alert by nature due to necessity but she never really got a chance to wind down. And Elend had to do the pragmatic things that he did, all the while using his real idealistic self as a mask grafted to his skin.

I really feel iffy about the two executions that Elend committed: of his former friend Jastes Lekal and the Skaa soldier, Bilg.

For those who've forgotten, Jastes Lekal was a fellow idealist and compatriot of Elend Venture and Telden Hasting. They often met at balls and discussed politics. After the collapse of the Final Empire, Jastes fled Luthadel to his home Dominance where he tried to implement several of Elend's ideas in governing his lands, such as freedom and political honesty, which was seen as a sign of weakness and led to his family members were culled off by the new rulers when they took control. He became unhinged and recruited an army of Koloss by paying them with fake coins to beseige Luthadel. He was caught by Elend trying to flee in the aftermath and summarily had his head lopped off.

Bilg was a Skaa who was sceptical about the chances of a successful skaa rebellion. He just wanted to live. He saw through Kelsier's charisma & realized they were being led to suicide. Kelsier used him & Demoux to turn the tide of opinion by having the two duke it out by Rioting Bilg's emotions and supporting Demoux with steelpushes and ironpulls. Kelsier intended to kill him but Demoux resisted. In WoA, he gets involved in a scuffle between the Mistfallen and the other soldiers, started by Midge (actually accidentally started by Kelsier, as seen in Mistborn: Secret History) who claimed that the Mistborn were holy and chosen by the Survivor. Their general, Demoux had to interfere, punched his general in the face right when Elend joined the scene. According to the law instituted by Elend, he had to execute Bilg, even though Demoux pleaded to only throw the man in solitary.

Another point of contention for me, as I mentioned, was Elend became a military dictator. Again, as I said, I understand the stakes and I do love him for his selflessness and willingness to die for his beliefs, which he displayed twice, but he also basically went democracy is for later, now we fight. And he inspired others to fight and die... um, a quality that is praised in real life too, especially in soldiers but it's one of the heroic qualities I'm most uncomfortable with.

So, what did you guys feel about the original Mistborn trilogy characters? 

Edited by Honorless
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I think all of them are greatly tainted in some way, and I meal  all of them. Many or all of them were either broken mentally (breeze), emotionally (sazed), or physically broken (clubs). Also, war brings out the worst in people, especially with one side thinking of it as an ordinary thing. I personally love how all of them are twisted the wrong way, I think it perfectly fits the story and the characters. I think that the mistborn books are one of the most well written books of Brandon’s. 

On character specifics, I think Kelsier is doing bad things for good, making him not a monster, but he’s not a good person, really. 

For Vin, she was a tad insensitive for TFE and WoA, but I like that she developed to be a tad* better

Elend was kind of innocent for most of the pages, and him becoming a dictator is a bit weird for me, but it does show how Elena’s was broken by war.

 

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Enough has been said about Kelsier.

Vin is interesting. She is a creature of instinct and for most of the first book she is just tagging along. I dont see big moral choices come into play for her until WoA. The first has already been noted the slaughter of Cett's forces. Yes this is undeniably morally wrong she should not have done that. But it is important to look at the motivation ahead saw herself as protecting Elend who see loved. This makes the next big moral decision at the Well way bigger. She sacrifices that person she loved so much to (try and fail to) save the world.

Elend has the least gray area to me. He was an idealist who and in WoA saw all of his ideals crumble and fail in the face of the massive adversity. So he instituted a military dictatorship. Now on the surface that seems horrible but given the circumstance I think it was totally justified. Had he lived and become the Lord Mistborn I think he may have instituted an even more democratic system than he had in Luthadal or the one Spook made. That's what he wanted deep down, he would have the political power to do it (he had just saved the world), and it was the scheming merchants and nobles who got him evicted as king.

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Thank you, both of you @Koloss17 and @Elsecaller_17.5. Vin and Elend are such favourites that I was afraid of what this thread might've looked like when I came back to see it

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I must be different, because I felt his execution of Jastes was justified and satisfying.  He became a King, in that moment.  Judgement is an important part of government.  Those in charge pass judgement on those who commit crimes in their kingdom.  Jastes brought a rampaging army against his city, and then left them to rampage with no direction.  There was never going to be any other outcome.  

 

As for the soldier who was executed, same thing.  We do the same thing, and its called a Court Marshal.  We may not execute the man, but in a war, you CANNOT have your soldiers feeling like they can freely strike their commanding officers.  For ANY reason.  That leads to the breakdown of the army, as inevitably someone will decide that life in prison is better than having to listen to the commander for one more day.  A swift execution will make the men fall in line much faster.  It's brutal, barbaric, even, but it's also War, and War is not a game.  

 

Also, a commander has to be able to send his men to their deaths.  I a commander cannot do that, then he is not a commander.  Wars are not won by making sure your soldiers stay safe.  They're won by using your soldiers to make sure your citizens remain safe.  

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Military philosophy is going to be contentious. Suffice it to say that I have issues regarding a lot of it.

Did anyone notice how inaccessible Elend got in WoA and HoA during certain moments when we are usually shown what's going on in the headspace of the protagonist ? He had no PoVs exactly during those moments or when he (rarely) did it was in a very clinical mindset.

That's a good way of using PoVs, I must say

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On 2/16/2020 at 4:35 AM, Dreamer said:

Vin notes herself to be a creature of instinct and in WoA muses that she isn't a judge but an executioner... or something along those lines, I forget the exact quote.

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What about you? Are you a good person?

Vin: Oh, no, not me. I'm not a good person or a bad person. I'm just here to kill things.

 

On 2/16/2020 at 4:35 AM, Dreamer said:

Another point of contention for me, as I mentioned, was Elend became a military dictator. Again, as I said, I understand the stakes and I do love him for his selflessness and willingness to die for his beliefs, which he displayed twice, but he also basically went democracy is for later, now we fight. And he inspired others to fight and die... um, a quality that is praised in real life too, especially in soldiers but it's one of the heroic qualities I'm most uncomfortable with.

Abe Lincoln kind of did the same thing just FYI.  Letting one man take us through a crisis with almost absolute power without him becoming a monarch afterward is kind of foundational to the idea US.

Edited by Karger
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8 hours ago, Karger said:
Quote

What about you? Are you a good person?

Vin: Oh, no, not me. I'm not a good person or a bad person. I'm just here to kill things.

 

Thanks!

8 hours ago, Karger said:

Abe Lincoln kind of did the same thing just FYI.  Letting one man take us through a crisis with almost absolute power without him becoming a monarch afterward is kind of foundational to the idea of the US.

Yeah, the real world is full of examples of this. It's an interesting thing to read in history and philosophy

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Any President who is in office through a war basically does the same thing.  Congress declares war, but the President is the Commander in Chief.  It's actually why they passed the Amendment to limit the President to two terms, because Roosevelt was elected 4 times in a row, because of war, if I'm not mistaken.  They didn't want for people to get used to only one person being president, because of something like it being during war times, and wind up just reelecting him for life. 

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For Elend, the questionable one to me is the Jastes bit, because Elend isn't actually king or emperor at that point... so it's not clear what authority he actually has to execute anyone. OTOH, this is a situation of total chaos where the government that has existed for 1,000 years - the only government anyone has any real knowledge of, beyond ancient history preserved by the Keepers - has broken down. So any question of legal authority is verrrry tentative here.

It's really a more unresolved situation than anything we have in the modern day. In our age, even in 'failed states' there are principles of international law that theoretically apply even if not honored in practice. But the people of Scadrial have no such concept because there have been no other nations for centuries, all law came down from the Lord Ruler, and now he's gone.

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Vin and Cett's men... I don't think I would agree that that is definitely wrong. Questionable and probably poorly considered, yes, clearly wrong, no. They are soldiers of a force besieging the city, after all. It's questionable because there is a sort of truce in effect, yeah, but it seems to be a truce that everybody involved understands could break down at any moment, there is no formal treaty. Vin feels guilty about it -- as I understand it -- primarily because the conflict was so one-sided, her opponents had no real chance, not because she broke any "law of war" or other understood rule of conduct.

 

 

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