Hey all, and welcome back to the theory column. Last time's Cosmere 102 was such a long post, that I'm trying to keep this one a little more succinct for you all. Today I am going to highlight a theory post by our very own FeatherWriter (whose excellent podcasts you should definitely check out, if you haven't already). This theory is Roshar's Afterlife and the Tranquiline Halls. This theory contains spoilers for most cosmere books including Mistborn, Warbreaker, and Shadows for Silence, but particularly for The Stormlight Archive and Mistborn: Secret History. I am going to begin by outlining Feather's arguments for the theory, and then I will add my own comments and analysis.
The main premise of this theory is that unlike most places in the cosmere, the souls of people who die on Roshar are unable to move on to the Beyond like they do on most other planets. Instead of passing on to whatever the cosmere's afterlife looks like, they are instead interrupted somehow by either Odium or one of his agents, such as the Unmade.
Evidence in Favor
Brandon often likes to provide hints about the nature of his worlds or past events through his religions and other worldbuilding aspects. So much of Vorinism hinges on a fight after death to reclaim the Tranquiline Halls, the Vorin heaven. It is possible that this is a hint that something is amiss here. Another point in favor of the theory is that Damnation, also called Braize, is a real location in the cosmere, so at least some aspects of the Vorin religion have a root in reality. It could therefore be possible that the problem.
As Feather mentions, there is also a precedence for this sort of interference with death on the part of a Shard. Endowment speaks to some of the dead and offers them the opportunity to Return before they move to the Beyond. On Threnody on the other hand, many of the dead remain behind as Cognitive shadows, with no evidence for direct intervention on the part of a Shard. The most compelling evidence for heavy meddling on the part of a Shard with a Cognitive shadow comes to us courtesy of Mistborn: Secret History.
In both Bands of Mourning and Secret History, we see that a Shard has the opportunity to speak to its "children" for lack of a better term, those beings that it created, just before they move to the Beyond. Leras manages to have a full conversation with Kelsier, even with most of his mind gone. Sazed does even more for Wax in his final moments, showing him visions of the planet and offering him a few final words of peace. Feather points out that it need not necessarily be so cathartic, and instead Odium or one of his lieutenants could be waiting in the Cognitive Realm to fight with or torture those who die.
There are also a few metatextual reasons that Feather points out. Brandon has exhaustively figured out many aspects of the cosmere, and this mechanism for transfer to the Beyond is likely no exception. It seems possible that Brandon will want to tell a story dealing with this, although arguably this role has been filled by Secret History since this theory was initially written. However with Brandon's mentions of potential sequels to Secret History and similar happenings on Roshar, it seems likely that he's barely scratched the surface this subject. Also, Brandon has stated that characters slated to have a flashback sequence in the Stormlight Archive might die before their flashback book. This has perplexed many, myself included, because of the close connection between the present day story and the flashbacks in both released books so far. FeatherWriter says that this could be solved simply by having a character continue the fight post-death in Shadesmar.
I think there's a lot of good evidence here, and that Feather has listed nearly all the arguments in favor of the this theory. The piece I'd like to add is that we also know that it is definitely possible to harm a Cognitive shadow, without killing it. Kelsier gets pummeled on pretty hard in Secret History. He experiences severe pain without permanent injury at the hands of Hoid, and is almost torn apart by Ruin on at least one occasion. It seems highly possible that Odium could do something similar. Sazed has also shown that he has the ability to show visions to Wax in the Beyond, and Endowment does something similar for those who are given the oppurtunity. Could Odium not do something similar, except show someone visions of death, pain, and horror? Between the apparent ability to cause pain to Cognitive shadows and the ability to show them nightmares, it's beginning to sound a lot like Damnation already.
One of my main concerns with this theory coming to pass is that characters have already died and been resurrected quite a bit recently in the cosmere. Between Kelsier in Secret History, and the short-lived deaths (pardon the pun) of Syl, Jasnah, and Szeth in the most recent Stormlight book, he runs the risk of writing stories where death has little meaning, almost like a comic book universe. Brandon is a genre-savvy writer, and very aware of common fantasy tropes, and is certainly aware of this, so perhaps he might be hesitant to bring someone else back from the dead or rather continue with them even after their death.
Another potential concern is that Odium is not actually on Roshar currently. It has been stated that his power is heavily invested there, but he is physically on Braize. It is uncertain if he would be able to appear to the dying in the same way that Endowment and Harmony are able to do so. This does not eliminate the possibility that one of his agents like the Unmade are interfering with the death process.
One hole this theory (which Feather admits is more an interesting thought than a fully fleshed-out theory) is how the dead are stopped from moving on the Beyond. Preservation only manages to stop Kelsier from moving on by merging him with the Well of Ascension, Endowment sends people back to the Physical Realm fairly rapidly. There is no known mechanism for how Odium would keep people from passing on the the Beyond. On the other hand, it seems that the shades of Threnody remain in the Cognitive Realm without any active interference on the part of a Shard. If it can happen on its own, it seems possible that Odium also could have found a way to keep the Cognitive shadows lingering on.
My final concern is that we have seen Shadesmar when someone dies, from Shallan's viewpoint. She sees one of the flames from the soul of a crewman extinguished while she looks into Shadesmar, trying to Soulcast the Wind's Pleasure. There is no sudden appearance of Odium, despite the fact that Kelsier could see Leras appearing for the dying nearby. On the other hand, Shallan does not see anyone's Cognitive shadow appear in Shadesmar when the flame vanishes. This could also be a sign that something is not right with people passing on to the Beyond.
I think that this theory has a huge amount of merit, and that some portion of it will end up being proven correct in a future book. It may not all come to pass exactly as Feather has predicted, but I think she is making good inferences and asking the right questions. There are a few holes remaining in this theory, but I suspect many of them will be filled in in the near future, and I can't wait to see how this all pans out.
There has not been a lot of new information since the last update, but there is a few new tidbits, from the recent White Sands release signing. A big thank you to everyone who shared the questions they asked Brandon!
- The Sovereign has the opposite eye spiked that Marsh does, and the spike grants "nothing special"
- Marsh become the personification of Death because of his appearance and his presence at "ominous times"
- In the Warbreaker Graphic Audio audiobook, Vasher uses the Command "My Breath to give for life to live." to transfer all but his divine Breath to someone, whereas in the text of the novel, that command is not specified. As far as Brandon can remember, this Command is canon, but we should check with Peter or Isaac
- One of the paintings that Lightsong reacted to was painted by some significant, but it was not Hoid.
- Bloody Tan stole the bendalloy shipment simply because it is a valuable metal.
A really awesome new addition to the Coppermind comes courtesy of Cheese Ninja and Weiry Writer, one of our admins. Cheese Ninja did much of the work building the preliminary timeline. Weiry did an extensive reread confirming this timeline and has constructed an awesome table for most of the events of the book. This timeline is fully cited and linked to various chapter summaries on the wiki. It is an excellent tool and certainly a labor of love, so definitely check it out!
As for our wiki challenge this month, I'd like to encourage people to work on White Sand articles. The graphic novel came out just the other day, and we need people to add content and help out with the w riting of new pages. I believe we currently have a grand total of five or six articles about things from Taldain, so obviously we have a lot of work to do. A whole new world is a lot of work for the normal editors, and any help that can be provided is appreciated, even if it is just a line or two. As always, any of our wiki admins would love to help you out if you have any questions about what to do or how to do something.
For our interesting fact of the month, I'd like to draw people's attention to a new fact caught by member BeskarKomrk, who was relistening to some old audio. The full quote can be read here, but the most important part is this.
"Taldain… [is] inaccessible currently in the cosmere."
While this is not necessarily unexpected on a planet controlled by a Shard named Autonomy, it definitely adds a whole new perspective to Khriss calling herself an exile in Secret History. I personally wonder how Autonomy has managed to isolate an entire planet in the Cognitive Realm.
In a final note, I'd also like to open up a call for suggestions for theories I should feature. As we're in between books right now, new theories are harder to come by, so if there is a theory that you think is particularly interesting, noteworthy, or well-accepted, and you'd like to see me feature it, shoot me a PM and I'll look into it. Hopefully you all enjoyed this month's column, and I'll see you next month!