Chapter Three (Spoilers Hidden)
There is some division among readers regarding their favorite viewpoint character. One group chooses Raoden, but I think the majority go with Hrathen. All things considered, I think he’s probably the best villain I’ve ever written. His personality comes off quite well in this first chapter, and I think he might have the strongest introduction–at least personality-wise–of the three.
Chapter three marks the end of the first “chapter triad.”
The chapter triads are a major structural element of this novel. The viewpoints rotate Raoden-Sarene-Hrathen, in order, one chapter each. Each of the three chapters in the grouping cover pretty much the same time-frame, so they can overlap, and we can see the same scene sometimes from two different viewpoints. (Note the point in chapter two where Sarene sees Raoden being led to Elantris, wearing the sacrificial robes.)
We always follow this same format, going from Raoden, to Sarene, to Hrathen.
Until, that is, the system breaks down late in the book–but we’ll get into that.
And, you might have noticed that the Aons at the beginnings of the chapters stay the same for three chapters before changing. Each triad, therefore, has a different Aon to mark it. (I did a little bit of fighting to get this through at Tor. The final decision was theirs, but once they realized what I was trying to do, they liked the idea and approved it.) The placing of the Aons is a little bit obscure, I’ll admit, but it might be fun for people to notice. (They also grow increasingly complex, built out of more and more tracings of Aon Aon, as the triads progress. There are some special Aons marking the beginnings of sections.)
I’ll talk more on chapter triads later. You can read more about my theory on the format in the critical afterword to ELANTRIS (which should eventually be posted in the Elantris ‘Goodies’ section.) I might also do essay specifically about the format and the challenges it presented.
Anyway, back to Hrathen. My hope in creating him was to present an antagonist for the story who would be believable, understandable, and sympathetic. He’s a good man, after his own fashion–and he’s certainly dedicated. He doesn’t want to destroy the world; he wants to save it. It’s not his fault he’s serving an evil imperial force.
Regardless, Hrathen certainly has the most interesting character progression in the story. Raoden and Sarene, despite many interesting attributes, are two of the most static characters I’ve designed. This book isn’t about their growth as people, but rather their ability to overcome their desperate odds. Hrathen, on the other hand, has a real opportunity to grow, learn, and change. Perhaps this is what makes him people’s favorite. It certainly made him the critic’s favorite.
I can only think of two books I’ve written–out of sixteen–that use a literary ‘timebomb’ as strict as the one in ELANTRIS. Three months to convert the kingdom or Wyrn will destroy it. That’s a pretty heavy motivator. Sometimes, timebombs can feel contrived, and I tried to make this one feel as realistic as possible.