Character Clash – Elantris

In honor of the recent release of the Elantris leather bound edition (and coincidently re-reading the book at the same time), I’m starting this first Character Clash with two characters, Hrathen and Dilaf.

I’m finding that most writers like to avoid using religion in their stories and the ones that do usually paint it only in a negative light. But Brandon Sanderson, however, shows the complexities in it and highlights the positive effects it can have on people.

Hrathen 2

In each of his novels he explores how religion effects the world in a different way. In Mistborn, he explores the values of religions that aren’t necessarily true. In Warbreaker how, even if you don’t agree with a faith, you can still accept the people.

In Elantris, Sanderson explores how religion plays an effect in politics and what lengths and methods certain people will use to enforce their religious ideologies onto other people in an effort to convert them. Enter our two clashing characters.

Hrathen is a gyorn—a position equivalent to that of a cardinal—of the religion, Shu-Dereth; a faith based on hierarchy and order of its people. He seeks to convert the people of Arelon and redeem the heretical people in the name of his holy emperor, Wyrn. He takes careful, calculating steps in his ministry, painting the pitiful Elantrians as demons in the eyes of the people and turning the political leaders in order to make his faith the national religion.

Dilaf, who becomes Hrathen’s odiv (apprentice) upon the gyorn’s arrival into Arelon, is a zealous believer in Shu-Dereth. He hates Elantris and its people. If he had his way he’d see them all destroyed. At rallies, he speaks with zeal and his passion-filled words are enough to even make his gyorn master envious.

Hrathen’s calculating nature is exposed more by Dilaf. We see that he is rational and not one to give in to rash outbursts. We see how he considers each step carefully when dealing with the
public, knowing well that the slightest misstep could ruin everything he is trying to do. We also see how Hrathen’s own faith is challenged because he cannot muster the fervent devotion in his god that his odiv can.

But at the same time, we see, through Hrathen, just how dangerous Dilaf’s zeal is. The youth’s passion leads to extremist acts and he’s quick to cause a riot if it means bringing about the destruction of his enemies. Had Hrathen not be present, and Dilaf be our only representation of Shu-Dereth, we’d think the religion consisted of only religious tyrants with only bloodlust in mind. Thanks to Hrathen, we know that isn’t only the case.

As character fHrathenoils go, Dilaf and Hrathen are a good pair when exploring the different extremes of conversion tactics. What are some other character foils you’d like me to explore? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

If you want to see how these two play off each other better, check out Elantris here on

If you want to support Brandon Sanderson directly, check out his site here.

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Brian J. Branscum

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