O Teryn my Teryn | Dragon Age – The Stolen Throne
Its no secret that I’ve been slacking. That’s stupid of me.
There, its said, now lets get to the rest of this post.
[Spoilers for the novel Ahoy]
As a prequel novel to DA:O, The Stolen Throne (or DA:ST for convenience) had quite a bit to do, since DA:O, while being a long and complete story, left a fair amount of stuff for other material to cover. Two things were in play there: one, that most people who buy this know about, and have played DA:O, and therefore know the progression events in the Fereldan Rebellion, from the death of the Rebel Queen, to West Hill and finally River Dane; second, Teryn Loghain Mac Tir. While really hardcore DA:O fans may want to know about the “other story” mentioned in the item text for such items as Katriel’s grasp, its really fair to say that the one major element that a fan of DA:O, and thus the major readership of DA:ST, want to know more about Loghain. Why he did what he did, what drives him, where did he come from, who is he, and what is his relationship with the late King Maric Theirin.
Answers are as hard in coming as they are to swallow. For one, Loghain is initially saddled with the stereotypical fantasy ‘travelling mentor’ role that we’ve all seen everywhere; he loses not a single fight in the book, and is the source of nigh every intelligent plan in the rebellion save his treatment of the Legionnaires of the Dead, which is weird or disappointing, depending on your approach. This, in turn, raises further questions, because the mentor role is one that intrinsically raises questions. Mentors are people who are of considerable skill, and so must always beg the question of how they got the skills, and what the story behind those skills is. While no story is ever a complete one, and every story, irregardless of its devotion to the maxim of “exclude nothing”, relies on storytelling through reference, what DA:ST does is get its audience hyped up for answers that have been long in coming, only to tell them to wait for them until longer. Nobody’s gonna be happy with that.
What exactly do I mean “storytelling through reference”? It’s my term for when people refer to events that happened in the far past, or at a time of similar effect, to generate ‘backstory’. Backstory, while always necessary, is also something that usually holds less punch. This is not always true – one of the more effective ways to make backtory hit harder than the present story is to give it a poetic flavour, and examples are easily found in the Witcher canon, in Ciri’s tale, as the “…the princess who would not rule, the witcheress who fought humans, and the sorceress who cast no spells…” but in backstory is generally used to give context and food for thought, not provide actual, visceral, emotional impact.
The difference between backstory and actual story is not particularly large, and is mostly a question of the way a story paces itself than one of when it sets the ‘present day’, since most stories don’t explicitly write ‘X years before the present day’ in them. Fantasy is much more fond of just writing 9:02 Dragon.
Tangent aside, what does this mean for Loghain? It is that he is every bit the inscrutable enigma here, that he is for all of DA:O. People who came expecting the tale of Loghain Mac Tir will be disappointed, although that can be mitigated by viewing DA:ST as the tale of Maric Theirin instead. Which would be nice, but Maric’s story is generically unimpressive till page 350(of 400), so ah crap.
That said, Loghain still recieves significantly more development than he ever did in DA:O … unless you played DA:O in a highly specific way. We learn that he is pragmatic, and cold, and that his relationships with other people progress beyond his cold and unpleasant nature – learnhere is no warm core under the cold exterior. He approaches things in his own, cynical, ends justify the means, and when Katriel’s death plays out, we know that Loghain is a cold, vindictive man, inextricably tangled in his selfish obsession with vengeance against Orlais. There is an undercurrent of selfishness in the noteworthy actions he takes, those being Katriel’s death and the Battle of Ostagar. While he provides justifications for both, and justifications that are well-reasoned at that, I doubt it is mere coincidence that David Gaider wrote all these actions to be ones in which Loghain gained personal satisfaction of power.
His development does not stagnate between works; in a later conversation with him in DA:O, he mentions the change in his mindset towards the rebellion as it grows farther and farther into the past:
“Hate doesn’t describe it; I see painted masked lords beat an old farmer to death with riding crops. To this day I don’t know why, is that hate? I saw good sensible men fighting armoured Chevaliers with nothing*! No weapon, no armies, not even hope of success to see the occupation end, is that hate?” -Loghain
(*That would be the second battle at Gwaren.)
The key thread here is “why?“: reasons, logics, sense. While the way his mother’s death is described in terms of the emotion of outrage, this is written with the undertone of confusion, a lack of reason behind the events happening. The rebellion and overthrowing of King Meghren, then, was a rectification of said lack of reason, a return to sense. Loghain initially does not see himself as a prominent part of the rebellion, but later on, comes to, and this makes him the rectifier, the knight of reason, a self-image that comes with an arrogance and confidence in his assessments that he exudes throughout DA:O. Now, knights of reason, or people that have been made out to be so, have always been an arrogant bunch, presumably since they believe(d) that there is an unshakeable foundation beneath their beliefs and actions. This, then, leads him to retreat from Ostagar when the full force of the Blight shows.
“Had I raised her [Anora] to be such a fool as that, I’d have been in no better position to save her! What you forget is that your king was beyond saving. The darkspawn would either have had him or have had us all. Do you really believe we would have been so much better off had I chosen otherwise?” -Loghain
All that said, this unfolds in a most … ill-advised manner, involving an affair with Rowan, and swings in his character. The book, generally, is less fun to read than it is to talk about, and is written in dry, dull prose, significantly more so than most fantasy novels, and fantasy is not the gold standard of quality of prose. It is evident that Gaider is much more adept at writing codex entries and dialogue – his chief job at Bioware – than he is at writing a novel, and it especially shows when he tries action scenes. Those are pretty bad. All the good moments in this book are conversations or the like, and a good third of the novel is in fast-forward ‘backstory mode’ despite being set in the present tense, so we do not get to see Loghain’s burgeoning friendship with Maric as it happens, and are simply told that it happens. The book is an utter failure in that regard. Hell, it’s a bad book and has a shit ending to boot; it just has very good bones.
Now, I’ve referenced Loghain’s ‘death’ in my post title, so lets get to it.
It’s decidedly Macbethian. The regicide, the key flaw (that being his assessment at Ostagar, in the face of the Blight), the fall from grace. The only difference is that there is never guilt until the very end of DA:O , and that his death need not be literal, depending on your actions in DA:O, and can be interpreted as his betrayal at Ostagar. The death is a classic case of dying a hero, or living long enough to see yourself become the villain. The Hero of River Dane, protagonist and knight, who had never truly been wrong about anything, messed up. And then he died a smear on Fereldan history, a senseless, crazed bastard.
Oh, and the reference to Walt Whitman’s poem is facile; I just put it there because I really wanted to. Sorry folks.