U.S. fantasy writer talks about Chinese influence in his work

New York Times bestselling author Brandon Sanderson, who was in Taiwan to promote his books, said he has drawn ideas for his fantasy novels from Chinese culture and has collected ingredients for his stories during his travels.

The culture and magic in his works such as the epic fantasy “The Way of Kings” were inspired by Chinese numerology and the Confucian social order, Sanderson said in a recent interview with CNA.

“The concept of the relationships between leaders and followers, fathers and children were fascinating to me,” said the 36 year-old American author who lived three years in South Korea, where Confucianism is observed.

“It created a core order for a very organized culture,” he said.

“The Way of Kings,” released in 2010 and the first in a scheduled 10-novel series titled “The Stormlight Archive,” follows the story of three individuals from different strata of a society through a medieval feudal world thrashed by violent storms.

The author said he also drew heavily on the concept of numerology in Chinese culture to create his magic because numbers in Chinese have diverse meanings.

“In English a one is a one but in Chinese each number and character has multiple meanings so the idea of numerology as a superstition and almost as a science was very fascinating for me,” said Sanderson, known for the complexity of his magic systems.

Calligraphy has also made it into Sanderson’s novel.

At the end of “The Way of Kings,” one of the characters paints a calligraphic symbol on the ground then burns it.

“You paint it and set it on fire, and that is a prayer in this world,” Sanderson said. “That is something I drew from the Chinese culture.”

Sanderson said he was surprised to find his books so well-received in Taiwan.

On the day of its release in Taiwan on Feb. 1, the Chinese version of “The Way of Kings” shot to number three on the bestseller list of books.com.tw, a major local online bookstore.

On every visit abroad, Sanderson said, he takes notes and tries to write down a story that inspired him, to be used as a “seed” for later stories.

For example, an exhibit of necklaces and armors made out of coins that he saw nine years ago in the Middle East inspired him to create “coin armors” for the characters in his new book “A Memory of Light,” which is scheduled to be launched in fall this year.

“A Memory of Light” is the 14th and final book in Robert Jordan’s fantasy series “The Wheel of Time,” which has sold over 44 million copies worldwide. The last three books in the series were written by Sanderson after Jordan’s death.

The 12th book, “The Gathering Storm,” by Sanderson, beat Dan Brown’s “The Lost Symbol” to top the New York Times hardcover fiction list in November 2009.

Sanderson said many people regard fantasy novels as “not-good literature,” or “escapism” but fantasy challenges human beings to “dream bigger, dream better.”

“Fantasy is mental weightlifting for your imagination, to help you think better and think beyond what you would normally see,” he said. “I like to view my job as bringing joy to people and hopefully encouraging them to dream bigger.”

The writer said his satisfaction comes from knowing that his books are reaching “not just niche readers” but people who may not have read a lot of fantasy but are trying out the genre.

It is “extremely satisfying” to know that they have been translated into other languages, he said.

His novels have been praised for their impressive characters, plausible worlds and well thought out rule-based magic systems.

“The fact that readers are enjoying it says to me that they like a little bit of wonder, a little bit of imagination, but they also like it to make sense.”

The author, who also writes video game adaptations, expressed interest in working with local moviemakers and the gaming industry, saying that he sees films and games as another storytelling medium.

Sanderson helped write a video game called “Infinity Blade” that was released last year. Another game based on his bestselling “Mistborn Trilogy” is scheduled for release in 2013.

Christie Chen

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