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Constructive criticism of Sanderson’s themes and ethics?


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Hello! Finally stopped lurking and created an account to make this post. 

Tl;dr: Sando seems to have a huge emotional impact on his readers; I’m curious about where he falls short. I’m looking for writing/podcasts that scrutinize Sanderson’s authorial intent & assumptions in a Sazed-y way — if not scholarly, then at least a cogent & respectful way.  

Like many of y’all, Brandon Sanderson has changed my worldview for the better. His magic systems are beautifully intricate. Most of all I admire Sanderson’s radical open-mindedness and empathy, his poignant portrayal of mental health, and relatively progressive take on oppression. I want to emulate those in my own writing, but with a catch.

It’s occurred to me that, because of Sanderson’s open-mindedness, he’d likely welcome constructive critiques of his work. Still, I can’t seem to find any good articles or media that look at the Cosmere through a socially critical lens.

I’m not looking for contrarians or the “his prose sucks” crowd. I’m also not looking for softballs. Rather, I want to see critiques of Sanderson’s: 

  1. Implicit biases
  2. Character arcs’ implications. For instance, what’s the messaging behind portraying Moash and Dilaf as natural endpoints for disaffected oppressed people — those who don’t start working “inside the system” like Kal?
  3. Absences (“lacunae”) in his text. Identity-based absences, yes, but also perspective-based absences (see #2). 
  4. Open-mindedness & forgiveness itself — how much of Harmony’s indecision shows up in Sanderson himself? For instance, what is the ideological cost of Sanderson’s non-committal stance on who Roshar “belongs to?” The redemption of conquerors like Hrathen and Dalinar but not Vargo? 
  5. Anything else that isn’t nit-picky/mean-spirited
Disclaimer: please do not comment with arguments against 1-4. I also recognize that Cosmere plots do not necessarily reflect Sando’s beliefs. Looking to study, not debate! 
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I am not sure if this is what you mean or not, but in one of his most recent books, I was somewhat uncomfortable with certain jokes he had in the story.  One involved crude descriptions of male genitalia, and other one was a lengthy description (though still not pornographic) description of bondage sex.  Neither were completely terrible, but still did not sit right with me anyway.  There were other things I took issue with in that book, but that one is too controversial to mention here.  That being said, he is still my favorite author.

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  • 2 weeks later...

The Shardcast episode called Cosmere Beefs 2 has some constructive criticism about issues such as the portrayal of oppression and anger in the Cosmere. The episode on Moash also has some great analysis on the ways in which Moash is similar to some of the protagonists who are portrayed much more sympathetically. 

Edited by Paliah
fixed typo
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  • 6 months later...

I love the Mistborn trilogy. But looking back on it, I think the themes surrounding Rashek and Preservation/Ruin were written in an odd way. I think Sanderson made Rashek's actions too atrocious even though he was eventually presented as someone trying to protect humanity. After all, he turned much of the population into skas even before his empire was created. Same complaint applies to Ruin, to some extent.

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One 'criticism' that I could level (though it could be considered a strength as well), is that most of Sanderson's work has to do with some sort of political, or social revolution. He certainly does that aspect of his writing very well. However, I would be interested in seeing more stories that didn't have this aspect. For example TotES does a really good job of telling a brilliant story and keeps any sort of political/social upheaval in the background. 

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