The Counter-Manifesto: How Mages are Destroying Thedas, and What This Could Mean for DA3
The following is an essay that is the result of extensive playing, reading and Codex research. Please keep in mind the unreliable nature of many of these sources; they can be written from unreliable and biased POV’s, can be interpreted incorrectly, or be extrapolated poorly. I highly encourage civil discussion, debate, and disagreement, as well as presentation of facts I may have misinterpreted or overlooked. This deals with spoilers for Dragon Age: Origins, Awakening, Witch Hunt, Dragon Age 2, Legacy DLC, the Silent Grove and Asunder. The entire essay is 2300+ words; the majority of it is beyond the cut.
Special thanks to Reg for her help!
Mages in Thedas, mainly in non-Tevinter lands, are treated like pre-emptive criminals from their manifestation onward. They are rounded up, locked in towers or prisons, made Tranquil or killed. In the course of the Dragon Age games, you have two major decisions regarding the extermination of a large group of mages, ignoring all the smaller choices of mage life and death. In Origins, your words to the Knight Commander will doom or save the mages, though you do not actively participate in that massacre. In Dragon Age 2, however, the culmination of the game hinges upon your choice to protect or annul the Circle.
As a fandom, this is an oft-debated choice that usually ends with similar conclusions: in a nutshell, the mages are mortal (human and elven) beings who are unfairly oppressed. Some fans are kinder towards the templars as well; after all, they are not only indoctrinated, but also oppressed themselves by the Chantry, which feeds them lyrium until their addictions addle their brains and make them useless for little more than door guards. However, in the course of my personal attempts at lore-heavy character study, I have found that there is actually another facet that must be explored, which drastically affects the moral implications of your choice:
Mages, as they are presently, are responsible for the systemic destruction of both the Fade and Thedas, making their massacre a more complex conundrum than the oppressed versus the privileged oppressed. Namely, that the issue of survival of life as a whole hinges upon the sacrifice of a large portion of the population for something they have very little control over (sans divine intervention).
This clearly and concisely summarizes so many items of canon lore that have made me interpret magic and mages in a manner that often felt at odds with fandom. Here’s the problem: while it is plainly easy to see the oppression that mages under the Andrastrian Chantry system suffer, merely focusing on mages as similar to or symbolic of oppressed people here on earth oversimplifies the conflict that makes Thedas an interesting world. (Sadly, it also creates a broken aesop that, to be honest, can be very offensive to oppressed people, imho.)
I’ve often felt that magic and mages are metaphors of industrialization (and the oppression we see are examples of imperialism regarding resource use). Your essay strongly supports this point of view, particularly your conclusion that “it seems that there is some sort of ‘event’ necessary to push everything back into balance. Without this, magic will continue to tear the worlds apart.”
First of all - yes, the original post is absolutely worth a read. I love taking the lore of DA to actually take a look at the way magic works, rather than getting stuck in the endless loop of personal oppression. I think most everyone - a few outliers aside - would agree that the way the Chantry treats mages at the current point in history is wrong, that it has actively made the whole situation worse over the years. That treating people like criminals simply for an accident of birth is wrong. That killing a whole group of people for the sins of one or two is wrong, that lobotomizing people for simply disagreeing or making a mistake is wrong.
But that doesn’t change the fact that magic itself seems to be doing harm to the world, and that leaving that much flawed power to the whims of human nature is going to do some serious damage. And I’m really interested in using industrialization as a metaphor - it seems a lot less problematic than the usual metaphors people use. Because industrialization isn’t a bad thing! Progress, using the talents and powers available to you is great! The problems arise when large groups of people co-opt those talents and powers to assert their dominance over others. It’s a good description of the Chantry, and of the magisters in the Imperium.
There’s no easy answer to the problem. That’s one of the reasons the DA universe is so compelling. But it’s nice to discuss the problems without having to resort to talking about why one particular character is right and another particular character is wrong. The whole thing is way more complicated than that.
Anora/Alistair - If I have to
Anora/Alistair - If I have to.
He had never seen her so uncertain before. Nervous sometimes, yes, especially during the events leading up to the Landsmeet. But she’s always known her mind and spoken it, and while he hadn’t particularly liked some of what she’d had to say, he’d quickly come to respect her. She was more than just her father’s daughter or his half-brother’s widow. She was Queen of Ferelden, no matter that her parent’s had both been commonborn, and she’d been raised from childhood to some day be Queen, with everything that meant in terms of learning about responsibility and duty.
Anyway, he could hardly fault her birth, given that he himself was a commonborn bastard, and unlike her, he’d never been giving any training at all in being royalty. Nothing beyond what minor courtesies a dog-boy or groom needed to know for dealing with his betters, he thought sourly. It still seemed some sort of sick joke, that he, who had been told so often that he had no place in the succession, and no skill at leadership, was now the King of Ferelden. And Anora, almost a decade his senior, his Queen and wife.
He had never seen her as anything other than coolly regal, face composed and still. But tonight… tonight, she looked up from where she sat on the bed – their bed, from this night on - in the puddled white lace of her nightgown, and he could see, for once, how uncertain she truly was. How frightened, too – frightened of him.
“We… don’t have to do this, tonight,” he said, softly.
She stiffened slightly, turned her head a little away. “It will get no easier for being put off,” she said, voice calm, but the slight tremor in her hands betrayed just how little calm she was actually feeling.
He swallowed, his hands closing on the hem of his tunic, uncertainly. “I’ve never…” he said, and trailed off, flushing with embarrassment.
She looked at him again, with some surprise. “Never what… oh. You mean you’re…” she stopped, looking shocked.
“A virgin, yes,” he said, blush deepening. “I was raised in the chantry since I was ten, don’t forget. Almost a templar and all that,” he added, trying for a lighthearted tone and failing miserably.
She cocked her head slightly to one side, blue eyes fastened on him. “Maker… if anything would make me think you’re not much like Cailan, that would be it,” she said bluntly. “He lost his virginity as soon as he could manage it. To a kitchen maid, as I recall. And then celebrated the feat by taking on a bath attendant, he later told me.”
He blinked. “And you… you knew about his…”
“His inability to keep it in his pants?” she said, dryly. “Yes. A family trait among Theirin men, my father always gave me to understand. Witness your own birth.”
She looked away again. “I knew all Cailan’s faults. We were raised almost as close as if we were brother and sister, after his mother died and my father brought me to Denerim to join him. We were betrothed while still children; Maric’s idea, though I doubt my father put up much resistance to it. He never was as good as he could have been at telling Maric no. Not and making it stick. Not that I can blame him,” she added, almost ruefully, and smiled. “I was little better at telling Cailan no. I knew all his faults, but I loved him anyway,” she said, softly.
Alistair looked away. “I’m sorry,” he said quietly.
“For what?” she asked, looking up at him again, eyes suspiciously bright.
“That this whole mess has been forced on you like this. That I remind you of him. That… that he died, and I never knew anything at all about him, except that he was my half-brother, and liked fancy weapons more than dogs.”
She gave him a surprised look. “How do you know that?” she asked, curious.
“Arl Eamon brought me to Denerim once, when I was still one of his dog-boys. Tending a puppy – a gift for some spoiled young noble. Not a mabari, one of his sight-hounds. Anyway, Cailan was there, at the party. I didn’t even know he was my brother, then. He didn’t think much of the dog, but he rather obviously coveted an enamelled dagger that was one of the other presents.”
She laughed, surprised and delighted. “I remember that party. And that dagger. He talked his father into getting him one just like it, later.”
She sighed, and then curled up, arms around her upraised knees. It made her look very young, he though; as if no more than a year or two separated them in age. “Come,” she said, and reached out with one hand to pat the bedding beside her. “Sit. You’re right, you do remind me a lot of your brother, at least in looks, and… I suppose that does you a disservice. You’re not Cailan.”
“No, I’m not,” he agreed, then walked over, and sat down beside her. He looked at her, then away again. “I’m not my brother. Or my father. I’m no noble, either, for all I’ve been made King. And I know that if I’m not going to make a total mess of things, I’m going to need help. Arl Eamon thinks it should be his help,” he added, a touch of bitterness in his voice. “I… don’t entirely trust his intentions, for all he had the raising of me. Perhaps particularly because he had the raising of me.”
He glanced at her again. She was watching him, listening closely. “I don’t want to fail at this. Because if I fail, it hurts a lot more people than just me. It hurts the whole country, and Ferelden has enough problems already. I…” he paused, frowned. “I wish we could be friends. You know how to rule; you’ve been raised to it. From what I’ve heard, my brother spent his time doing whatever the Fade he felt like, and left the responsibility part of things to you. I don’t want to be that kind of king. I don’t want to be my brother. I don’t want to have my brother’s life or my brother’s wife.”
He looked at her, meeting her eyes again. “Can we try to be friends? I think that’s far more important to our future, to Ferelden’s future than… than having a proper wedding night tonight.”
She smiled then. A very small smile. And took his hand in both of hers. “I hated the idea of marrying you, you know,” she said. “So very much like Cailan, at least in looks… but you’re not him. And I begin to think your Warden was wiser than I first thought, when he insisted on the two of us marrying. All right. Yes. Let’s work on learning to work together first of all. We can do something about your unfortunate virginity some other time.”
Alistair gave her a look. “You’re laughing at me,” he scolded, mildly. And smiled. “Thank you,” he said, and squeezed her hand. “Is it okay then, if tonight we just… talk?”
“Yes,” she said. And smiled, a warm calm smile that gave him hope that maybe this might work out after all. “Tell me about growing up in Redcliffe.”