|When you consider what life was like in the ancient days when spirits and |
physical beings lived together in a magical world, it's easy to see why Solas
reacted in horror to his awakening after millennia in the Fade.
The scene hums with quiet talk and contentment as the memory's maker reaches the city's gates, already thrown open wide.
—Dragon Age: Inquisition "Trespasser" DLC ("Vir Dirthara" Codex: Homecoming).
SPOILERS as always, for all of Dragon Age!
Welcome! We're on to my second post in my series on "Meet the Evanuris" (please do check out my first post here, for a general overview of Dalish myths and gods back when we were young and naive and oh, so trusting).
Our knowledge is darker now, however, and far more complex, thanks to Dragon Age: Inquisition and especially "Trespasser."
So here we go... as we try to separate fact from myth.
Let's set the scene: In the very farthest reaches of the past, it appears that there was a great war, between the immortal Elvhen people, led by the Evanuris, and a force of unnamed foes (the Forgotten Ones, to me, are the likeliest candidates here). They won, and the Evanuris prospered, and, I suspect, drew power from their defeated foes much like Solas would do to Mythal, countless ages later. (Please note that I'm going to use the 'Elvhen' connotation for the ancients here, to differentiate from the modern elves).
Incredibly powerful in magic and accepted as leaders by a presumably grateful people, the Evanuris were the ruling body for millennia. According to most Dalish myths about the elven pantheon, they were led by Mythal and Elgar'nan, who had five children: the twins Falon'Din and Dirthamen, as well as Andruil, Sylaise and June.
Yet as we travel through Thedas and into mysterious areas like the Temple of Mythal, the Tomb of the Emerald Knights, the Lost Temple of Dirthamen, and into the hidden Elven Ruins in Solas's ancient valley, we begin to find that Andruil, Sylaise and June are also depicted as being potentially completely unrelated. Further, there are even implications that Falon'Din and Dirthamen were not biological twins, but something more complex.
Me, I'm not so sure about the family issue. At least in this moment, I'm on the side of the fence that thinks they were all related.
|Mythal and her brood of little nestlings,|
before the world went wrong.
I think the five were Mythal's actual children because of, first off, the golden mosaic portrait of Mythal in her hidden Arbor Wilds temple. Look at it—she looks for all the world like she's adorably holding a basket of chicks... FIVE OF THEM!
And it also does appear to me from the stories and implications that Mythal, at the very least, loved these people and considered them offspring. Or, at least, family. Biological connections or no.
But even if they were all family, this doesn't have to mean that they were all physical beings.
Think about it. We know from the revelations of "Trespasser" that they were all powerful mages, but it's also entirely possible that, in a universe in which spirits and physical bodies inhabited the world together, pre-Veil, not all of Mythal's children may have been of the flesh. (Or her companions, for that matter, but I'll get to that farther on...)
For instance, based on the original Dalish legend that Falon-Din could go beyond the Fade (or, let's say, into the spiritual realm pre-Veil) in ways Dirthamen could not, I wonder if Dirthamen was a physical being, an elf, while his 'twin' Falon'Din, who was able to walk both worlds, was in fact a spirit all along. I mean, it would make sense. No mortal could cross and recross into the purely spiritual world beyond the physical as Falon'Din does, so the discrepancy makes perfect sense. They may even have been able to share Dirthamen's physical body on occasion, in a more benign version of the way Justice piggybacked on poor Anders's soul.
And while I'm on the subject... I want to point out that it's this, as I mentioned briefly in my previous post, that may answer the mystery of why Falon'Din and Dirthamen are the only Evanuris depicted in the Temple of Mythal with black, black eyes. (Yes, I'm still wondering about this...)
(Please note that throughout this discussion, when I refer to "the Fade," I am referring to the spiritual side of the Elvhen world, pre-Veil, and more specifically, to the place from whence spirits are born, and to which the souls of the dead return.)
I think this is an important detail to note because of the time period we're addressing—the time of the Evanuris was an age in which the spiritual and the physical were not precisely interchangeable, maybe, but in which they coexisted in perfect harmony. Spirits and fleshly beings were both equally considered to be people and treated, it seems, without a specific prejudice for either. In fact, I wonder if spiritual beings weren't in fact more prized for their input because it had the potential to come from experiences across distances and years far beyond those of living beings, even immortal ones.
I'll go into more of the potential for both physical and spiritual Evanuris members in Mythal's entry to follow... and farther on in this post, as well.
Meanwhile, our journeys through DAI and "Trespasser" certainly teach us many things about the elven pantheon that seem to be less rooted in legend and more based in fact (and please note that anything I refer to here as "facts" is simply my assumption of what we learn in "Trespasser"—everything we know may very well of course be flipped again in Dragon Age 4).
|I do think that in the glorious early days of the Evanuris, there was|
real love and affection among them, even if it wasn't sustainable.
What's most interesting to me is that, fairly quickly into Dragon Age: Inquisition, our own accepted assumptions upon visiting the story of the elven pantheon are up-ended, and radically so. It is, after all, Mythal and Fen'Harel we eventually come to associate with vengeance, not Elgar'nan, even though it becomes apparent that Elgar'nan's temper was his defining quality (he certainly doesn't sound like a very pleasant guy, and much like Zeus it's implied that he may have been a pretty terrible husband, father and ruler). Take this pleasant little excerpt from the "Song to Elgar'nan" found in the Temple of Mythal:
Elgar’nan, Wrath and Thunder,In the above, don't miss what may be veiled references to a threatening Titan (in the shaking of the Earth), and to the divine dragon shape-shifting form that was apparently the ability common to all of the Evanuris (not just Mythal)—I'll address this in more detail farther on. In the references to lightning, are they referring, meanwhile, to Elgar'nan's mage abilities? Or did he, like Zeus and Thor, profess to use both lightning and thunder against his foes?
Give us glory.
Give us victory, over the Earth that shakes our cities.
Strike the usurpers with your lightning.
Burn the ground under your gaze.
Bring Winged Death against those who throw down our work.
Elgar’nan, help us tame the land.
With these and many other tantalizing little revelations, in other words, we quickly come to realize through the Codices and scraps of knowledge we accumulate in DAI that the Evanuris weren't all-knowing, powerful deities. They were, in fact, an arrogant, quarrelsome, corrupt and conflicted lot who frequently warred and fought within themselves, enslaved their own people, and who just as frequently abused their powers simply for amusement's sake.
I frequently play for Dalish Inquisitor protagonists in my DAI playthroughs, and if I headcanon for my heroine during the story's events and discoveries, I always find the revelations about the Evanuris to be incredibly powerful on an emotional level. Imagine Cassandra finding out that the Maker was not only never real, he was just some arrogant mage guy abusing his power. I mean, the implications are huge for the elven participants in DAI. Imagine the loss of belief in a profoundly Dalish believer... it might be enough to cause you to doubt everything you thought you knew. And it just might be enough to send you dashing off into the world to follow the silent call of an ancient almost-god...
But things were different long ago, after all. And maybe it wasn't always bad. In fact, I'm sure it wasn't.
A Paradise of Magic and Knowledge
In the beginning, despite the high passions and prideful immortals, it truly seems that there was harmony among the Evanuris, and I do believe, at first, that these beings did love one another, and glory in the beautiful world they inhabited. Andruil hunted and killed, yes, but at first I think she did so out of a real desire to celebrate and protect the beasts of the world and to pit herself only against their very greatest strengths (and to then, I would assume, feed her people). She who hunted the beasts also protected them, something we see in the fragments of stories of Ghilan'nain as well.
I also think that Falon'Din, the 'shadow' of Dirthamen who may have been a terrifying spirit, at first really did probably treat his work as a shepherd of sleepers in uthenera, and later, of souls, with honor and respect. I would imagine that in the beginning, Falon'Din would have experienced real wonder at each new soul and its passage to the Beyond, whether in dreams and uthenera, with the potential to return, or whether as a final journey into the Fade upon death, in a return from physical form to spiritual.
In other words, for a time I think it all really was wonderful, magical, beautiful and peaceful—perhaps for millennia the mortals of Thedas would be unable to count or even imagine.
The story is certainly sadder if these beings all began as good, and I believe it's plausible that for many thousands of years, even, the Evanuris were truly wise in their rule over the Elvhen people. I think they created and nurtured a paradise of wisdom, magic and thought, in which gravity was optional, conversations lasted for decades, relationships evolved over centuries, and the magic was as simple as a word or a breath. A world that Solas later mourns to us in Haven:
“Imagine ..... spires of crystal twining through the branches, palaces floating among the clouds. Imagine beings who lived forever, for whom magic was as natural as breathing. That is what was lost.”Passions Before the Veil
Speaking of Solas, I think it's important to bring up the fact here that, based on his dialogues and interactions with a romanced Inquisitor, these were intensely, deeply feeling people—beings who were both wise with millennia of learning, conversation and exploration, but who were also shown time and again to be quick to feeling, emotion and passion.
|Solas, seen here just before he utterly stomps all over my poor Inquisitor's heart,|
is a sensual, passionate, and intensely emotional person. Were these qualities
common to all Evanuris in a world without a Veil? I think they were.
With this in mind, it's all too easy to see why Solas awakened after long millennia and looked around himself in horror, seeing all those around him as beings who, to him, seemed muted and fragile, transitory and barely alive—he'd awakened, as he eloquently describes it in "Trespasser," to "a world of Tranquil." (I love this description, thanks to the always-superb Patrick Weekes, and have frequently felt since hearing it that this is also what it is often like to be an artist, as well...)
Anyway. When this consideration enters the picture, that this entire people were intense, emotional, deeply feeling and passionate, it's easier to see that the Evanuris were, in all likelihood, doomed by the very passions that sustained them.
And let's not discount the very real potential for the most insidious enemy of all... boredom.
After all, a few millennia go by, and hey, you've seen it all, done it all. Perhaps the Evanuris, in the end, were no different from the many RPG players who, having done their share of 'paragon' playthroughs, decide to go renegade just to see what would happen next. (I'm only partly kidding, here...)
The Inevitable Corruption of Power
Because, let's face it: People change. Or, as Anne Rice's ancient vampires discovered, perhaps it's a more subtle thing—that people who can exist for centuries do not so much change as become more and more who they always were at their core.
In other words, immortality may actually kind of suck.
Either way, after however many ages or millennia, every one of the Evanuris seems to eventually gone slightly mad (and then some) at a certain point, corrupting in each case the very talent, ability or love that had originally moved and shaped them. So Dirthamen became obsessed with secrets. Andruil went bonkers and hunted earth, skies and the Void itself to such an extent that even her fellow "gods" expressed fear that they might be next. Falon'Din no longer just ferried souls, he harvested them, glorying in death and lakes of blood, and amassing armies of spirits to do his bidding (that is, when he wasn't clashing with Elgar'nan for dominance). Elgar'nan, meanwhile, was evidently the same lovely guy he'd always been, just intensified, enslaving countless numbers of his people to serve and honor him, and to erect massive tributes and statues to his might—and very possibly doing so by carving those tributes into the bodies of his slain enemies, which in one memorable case he seems to have done on the mountainous corpse of a Titan itself (or, well, he had his slaves do it). Here's a quote from that moment:
The pages of this book—memory?—describe a monument made in a single afternoon by a thousand-thousand toiling servants swarming over a lump of fallen stone as large as a collapsed mountain. By the end of the day, the stern figure of Elgar'nan stares down into a valley, carved out from the foothills of the rock. The slaves have disappeared. Light radiates from the eidolon's narrowed eyes and its open, snarling mouth.
(Side Note: As they were in DAI, the Codices in "Trespasser" aren't just incredibly informative, they're also gorgeously written, so kudos to the writing team on those, which included the intrepid and talented Brianne Battye, Mary Kirby, and @Sylvf.)
|The Evanuris were likely always doomed. Even in a world of magic,|
I suspect that gravity will eventually always win out.
It was both tragic and inevitable. They'd seen it all, done it all. It appears that, at a certain point, the only thing that would satisfy them was to make the world their playground, a place in which they could enact the darkest tableaux of fear, war, death, corruption, decadence, plague (cough, BLIGHT, Andruil, cough), and enslavement.
The Arrival of Solas...
My own interpretation is that here, watching Andruil slay for fun, breaking her own sacred rules as she hunted earth, abyss and sky while poisoning both herself and the world, watching Elgar'nan and Falon'Din delight in slaughter and power, and watching even Dirthamen and Ghilan'nain plot against her, that Mythal just got scared, depressed, and tired.
I think that for awhile here, she tried for peace nonviolently at first, and sometimes it even worked. But then that wasn't enough. People weren't listening. So then she went into full-on Warrior-Queen battle mode—in Dragon Age: Inquisition and especially in "Trespasser," we find so much evidence of Mythal's physical attempts to stop the carnage! She subdues Falon'Din in his own temple. She overpowers Andruil and removes the knowledge of the Void from her to protect the world. She even may defeat a Titan simply for one more tool in her hand to use to protect her land and people (I'm still trying to figure out what her motive was here, but I'm convinced it has something to do with helping the elves—I just don't see Mythal killing a Titan for sheer gain).
Either way, she does all this, and it's still not enough.
So I think she calls for help. She calls on a friend from the Fade—a friend I believe she knows and deeply loves—someone she trusts to be both friend, companion and protector: Solas. A spirit.
The Case for Solas as Spirit
This is it. I think this is the point when Mythal calls Solas into the physical world, and I believe wholly and utterly that when she does so, she is calling on someone she has known since the world was young, a spirit of wisdom and grace.
And I think he answers out of love for her, and does as she asks, entering the world of Thedas as a slender, quiet young man, as a being who is utterly unique—both spirit and body, old and young, servant and master, guardian and trickster. Who walks in all worlds, both dark and light. I think their bond is one of love, but that it is not romantic; in fact, I think it actually transcends romance.
I'll talk about this more later, but it's intriguing to consider that Solas, already impossibly old in spirit form, may enter the world of the living here, becoming enfleshed at the request of Mythal (much as Cole would do, albeit involuntarily, ages later), in the body of the man we meet millennia beyond this time in Dragon Age: Inquisition.
I think this is what Solas means when he says he has always been the person we see before us, and that he's telling the truth; he is who he appears to be. He doesn't carry a wisp or vestige of a god; he is the god himself, the god who knows he's not one and never was; the elf and man who was once a spirit. I think all of this is true, and that the only change to that physical form of his is that the vallaslin that signified his service to Mythal, a symbol that became one of enslavement among his people, he eventually removed with her blessing, leaving only the tiniest scar upon his face as evidence (hey, it was probably his first try), as Cole later remarks obliquely in "Trespasser."
I love the idea of Solas beginning life as a spirit who is then called into the physical world (accepting that call by choice, and with love). It explains so much about him—his passionate embrace of all things fleshly, from the "frilly cakes" he once loved back in the ancient days of Orlais, to his open and fiery sensuality with a romanced Inquisitor.
It also explains his passionate support of spirits as fellow individuals, his empathy for Cole, as well as his deep grief over the loss of the spirit Wisdom. This isn't just someone he may have known during his long sleep in the Fade, after all, but someone he may have known for ages beyond counting. Someone who is a reflection of who he himself once was.
It even explains his painting style on the beautiful frescoes in his Rotunda, which I believe are accomplished not only in the finest artistic tradition of the ancient Elvhen masters, but that they also depict the events of DAI as seen not in real life, but instead as if... seen by someone from the Fade. That's my theory, anyway.
So... Enter Solas, stage left.
|The idea that Solas may have entered the world solely at the request of|
Mythal, and as a testament of his love for her, makes the end of their
journey all the more tragic and ironic.
I suspect that, for awhile, maybe even a few more thousand years or so, that Solas's entry onto the scene helped to stabilize things. He was brilliant, with a knowledge of the Fade/Spirit world beyond any ever seen, and with prodigious magical powers and a gift for diplomacy, a passion for justice and free will, and a slight glint of both rebellion and humor now and then. I think Solas would have fascinated the other Evanuris, and that he may even have grown to love his fellow 'gods' and truly helped Mythal to stem the tide of corruption, at least for awhile.
My suspicion, however, is that, even then, the one thing Solas could not stand was the existence of slavery. As someone who may have existed for countless previous ages and civilizations in the Fade, Solas would have seen the tragedies of slavery in years beyond the telling, and he would have seen the enslavement of their own people by the Evanuris as the height of evil. Either way, he began to fight it, first covertly, and then in open defiance.
At around this same time (or so I hypothesize), we know from the Codices that Mythal stepped in between the conflicts of Falon'Din and Elgar'nan, and that she eventually openly defeated Falon'Din, bloodying him in the sacred place of his Temple itself (an insult I'd imagine he never got over). We also know that Mythal openly defeated Andruil after her final trip to the Void, and that she may even have taken some of her power just as Solas later does from Flemeth, as the Codex notes that Mythal "sapped Andruil's strength and stole her knowledge." Again, Andruil may have taken awhile to recover, but as with Falon'Din, I do not see her licking her wounds and reconciling herself to peace, and it's definitely implied that she had personal reasons to begin to hate and fear Solas, as well, in her own right.
The eventual war within the Evanuris was, for this reason, unavoidable. Eventually, despite Solas's brilliance and trickery, despite all of Mythal's attempts at peace, the oldest and most powerful mages ever seen set themselves up as gods, opposed only by an increasingly desperate Mythal and Solas, who was now making a name for himself by freeing slaves and toppling tyrants in his own right. And so they began to call him Fen'Harel, the Dread (or 'Rebel') Wolf, as the being who could stalk them in all worlds and take them down, and whose magical powers exceeded even their own.
The Divine Shape
We learn some interesting things in DAI and "Trespasser" about the escalation in tensions at this point. From still another Codex from elven writing found in the Arbor Wilds, we learn that the 'divine' form of the dragon-shapeshifter may not have been solely the province of Mythal herself, but (it's implied) was the province of the Evanuris or 'gods' themselves:
"His crime is high treason. He took on a form reserved for the gods and their chosen, and dared to fly in the shape of the divine. The sinner belongs to Dirthamen; he claims he took wings at the urging of Ghilan'nain, and begs protection from Mythal. She does not show him favor, and will let Elgar'nan judge him."
For one moment there is an image of a shifting, shadowy mass with blazing eyes, whose form may be one or many. Then it fades.
This, to me, is a huge clue fraught with significance. It's really exciting!
|While we now associate Mythal as the figure associated with the dragon,|
there's a distinct possibility that shape-changing to the 'divine' dragon-form
was in fact possible for all of the Evanuris at some point.
So... if we follow this logic even further, it would seem to me that Andruil, Falon'Din, Dirthamen, and Ghilan'nain were openly opposed to Mythal, and that (based on Mythal's parallel rage to Flemeth's) Mythal's mate Elgar'nan also aligned with them eventually (overcoming his previous antagonism with Falon'Din). And based on the implications of our final talk with Solas, it appears that Sylaise and June, too, joined in, as all of the 'gods' were judged by him as complicit in the betrayal. I've even wondered if Elgar'nan only pretended to judge the 'sinner' mentioned above, and if instead the criminal wasn't actually freed instead. If so, this 'sinner' could in fact be the entity who eventually committed the actual murder of Mythal.
At the same time, I wonder if this isn't also when the Forgotten Ones, renewed in strength and awaiting their chance, sensed the schism and warfare among the Evanuris, and used the situation to make another attempt to conquer the Elvhen people once more. It would make sense, and also explain why Solas took action against both sides of the conflict, as well.
Either way, with their fellow immortals aligned against them, and war threatening from the Forgotten Ones, Mythal and Fen'Harel could not stand against them all. But it seems they tried.
But it was not enough. They were betrayed, and Mythal was murdered.
And after Mythal fell, as we know, Fen'Harel's vengeance tore apart the heavens, created the Veil, destroyed both the safety, culture, and immortality of the elves, and cast both the Evanuris and the Forgotten Ones into imprisonment for the ages. He did this both to save his people and to avenge the murder of the person he loved most in all worlds, but as we already know within the world of Dragon Age, by doing so he also inadvertently doomed his own people to mortality, defeat, diminishment, and eventual enslavement by humans.
And all because he answered the cry of Mythal.
A Closer Look
Thanks as always for reading! I'll be taking a closer individual look at each member of the Evanuris in further posts, following the hints and revelations of Dragon Age: Inquisition and "Trespasser."
And of course, for me, the pantheon must begin not with the cliche of the Father, but with, instead, the Mother... so I'll be posting on Mythal soon to follow, as the first of many more to come in the series intermittently over the coming months.
Meanwhile: what do you think of the Evanuris? What are your thoughts about the theories I've posted here? Do you think it's possible that Solas and Falon'Din may have been spirits in the first place? I'd love to hear what you think, so please do share your reactions in the comments!