Quite a few people hate Orzammar…Then there’s me sitting here like
I LOVE ORZAMMAR!
Me too! The Deep Roads gets to be a little long - especially for someone who hates spiders, ugh - but the dwarven culture is the most fascinating part of Origins for me. I’d much rather do that, as a general rule, than wander around the Brecilian Forest looking for mad hermits and talking trees for three hours.
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.