Friday, September 1, 2017

What's in a Name? Redefining Solas

Solas's name fascinates me for a number of reasons, precisely because that name offers such tantalizing potential clues to Solas as a character even in its very roots and core definitions.

The derivations and meanings of Solas's name add another
layer of potential insight to understanding DAI's most
secretive character. For instance, the word "solas" can
mean both "brightness," "comfort" or "lamp flame."
And since I know how smart the writers and creators of Dragon Age: Inquisition truly are, I definitely think Solas's name was given to the character with full awareness of the rich array of meanings, derivations and interpretations that can be found around his name, as well as of the fantastically opposed homonyms and antonyms.

I believe that the majority of these are in fact deliberate reflections on Solas's character (and its paradoxical nature) and actions, so let's take a look, below.

Homonyms for Solas

First off, Solas is a homonym (meaning, it sounds like other, different words) for a few key words in English:

EnglishSoulless
Meanings: Without a soul; without warmth or feeling; empty; evil.

EnglishSolace
Meanings:  A source of comfort in grief, distress or misfortune; to amuse, to soothe.

(Note: It's fun that these two homonyms are basically antonyms as well.)

Solas is also a homonym for assorted other words in several other languages:

Latin: Solus
Meanings: Solitary, alone, sole, only, uninhabited

Irish: Solas
Meanings: Light, Bright, Clear; Brightness; illumination; lucid, intelligible; light-giving, lamp flame; enlightenment, insight; revelation, disclosure; the light of existence; vision. Also: self-interest; limelight.

On Solas's Irish meanings, Brian O'Cathain over on the boards at Irish Gaelic Translator also posted this:

     Solas (Sol-as) - light, brightness, enlightenment 
     Sólás (So-lawss) - comfort, reassurance, consolation

Old IrishSolus
Meaning: Light

Scottish Gaelic (derived from the old Irish "Solus" or "light"): Solas
Meaning: Light

Old French: Solaz, Sollas, Soulas
Meanings: Joy, pleasure, enjoyment

Exploring the Latin Root

As the basis for most of the ensuing definitions and uses of the word 'Solas,' exploring the Latin root 'Sol' is particularly satisfying.

Among the base meanings for 'Sol' are:

  • Lone, alone, solitary, lonely, desolate, dismal, gloomy
  • The sun (also can refer to the Sun in a personified sense)
  • A source of comfort, calmness, soothing 
  • "To be accustomed" (as found in such words as: insolent, obsolescent, sullen)
Of course, we see this root over and over again in so many words dealing with these ideas: solo, solace, solitary, insolent, desolate, solar, absolute, and many more.

Redefining Solas

Now let's look at this wonderful stew of possible meanings and apply them to our favorite Dread Wolf.

Solas is absolutely all of the following: Lonely, solitary, intelligent, desolate, and the only one left of his people. He is sophisticated, enlightened, comforting and insightful. He can also be amused, sullen, arrogant, tricky, insolent, and self-interested. If romancing a female Lavellan, he is both a source of joy and comfort as well as the apparently cold (soulless) cause of her pain at a crucial moment. And in a larger sense, his ultimate goal for the world could certainly be considered "soulless."

Yet it is Solas's solitude that is emphasized time and again in the story of DAI. He is always found alone and restless in his beautiful rotunda. He does not participate in the game of "Wicked Grace," the last big moment before the final battle in which all of the companions enjoy each other's company, with only, notably, Solas, Viv and Leliana absent. Yet he is also consistently associated with light, as well. The lighting of the torch post-"The Dawn Will Come." The constant golden glow of his rotunda. 

But it's his loneliness that is key. Even Solas's companions comment on his solitude. And just in case we weren't paying attention, when we find the cemetery in the Fade that lists our companions' greatest fears, Solas's is, of course, "Dying Alone." (Gah. That one always kills me. It's why I have to redeem him and can never hunt him down. My hapless Solasmancer Inky will absolutely find him and stop him. But she won't kill him.)

And don't forget the alternate meaning of the term desolate and/or desolation—it can mean profound sadness. It can also mean a sweeping violence; absolute devastation. Which pretty much describes what Solas's actions with the orb have led to... and what he plans to do next.

Finding the Secrets in the Text

It's amusing to discover that we can actually find references to many of these qualities of Solas's directly in the conversations and banters of the game:

Cole: Bright and brilliant, he wanders the ways, walking, unwaking, searching for wisdom.
Cassandra: Solas, have you always lived alone? Out in the wilderness, as an apostate?
Dorian: You're an apostate—neither Dalish nor city elf—who lived alone in the woods studying spirits.
Cassandra: You have seen much sadness in your journeys, Solas.
Cassandra (to Solas): You have both knowledge and wisdom. You could have made the difference.
Solas (later, to Cassandra, on his beliefs): Cause and effect. Wisdom as its own reward, and the inherent right of all free-willed people to exist.
Cole: In his own way, he knew wisdom, as no man or spirit had before.

Note that Cole, who referred to Solas as "bright" (and revealing that this is how Solas's friend the spirit of Wisdom saw him), also uses the word "bright" to describe the Fade ("It's brighter here. Glittering. Glaring. Glinting.") Cole's comment that Solas "knew wisdom as no man or spirit had before" is also a teasing bit of wordplay, since Solas literally knew the spirit Wisdom, as a friend (and perhaps more).

While thinking about the word 'solace,' I realized that Solas also uses the word "comfort" quite often in his conversations with others:

Solas (to Cassandra): It is a comfort to have you present on our journeys, Seeker.
Solas (to Cole): You exist to help others. You are kindness, compassion, caring. If you stop giving comfort, you would twist into something else, as you did before I suspect.
Cole (responding to Solas): That's much sadder. But yes. Calm, comfort, as the cold takes him away.
Solas (to Varric): It's comforting that whatever qualities I lack, you'll invent for me, Varric.
Solas (to Vivienne): My rebels? Am I an agent for their cause, whispering poison into the Inquisition's ears? How comforting.
Solas (to Vivienne, slightly later): How comforting it must be for you to see a traitor helping the rebels from within.

Now, a lot of this is obviously organic because they are qualities that are built into the character of Solas, and which of course extend beyond his name. But they're fun to consider, and I do think the writers and editors were very much aware of the possibility and wordplay Solas's very name would offer. They used all of those threads to weave a rich and complex, unforgettable character.

I ultimately believe there are, in fact, two sides to Solas—two faces (whether literal or metaphorical). On one side is comfort, love and warmth. On the other is despair, desolation and a cold, profound emptiness. Which will win?

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