Recently, thanks to luck and geography, I was able to hear David Mitchell speak on writing. During the Q+A period someone asked that utterly predictable, do-my-thesis-for-me question: What is the role of fiction in modern society? And Mitchell answered as authors do, with one difference: he described, in an ancillary fashion, how fiction was writers’ way of manifesting change in the world–from their imagination to reality.
At which I commenced quietly choking on my tea. For where have we heard that before? Is that not almost exactly how magic is described in Thedas? Are mages not described as being able to manifest their imagination in reality? And is that power not what so frightens people?
Okay, you know the drill here. Spoiler power is go!
Conceivably, before the Veil, since you only had elves (until Mythal gave the dwarves dreams and sent them underground or something? or peeled them off from the elven gene pool? but nevermind about that), the only people who existed possessed, if not the ability to manifest magical change themselves (one assumes not all elves were mages; elsewise Solas would be at least a little perplexed by the distinctions between classes), at least the ability to see precisely how that change is manifested by others. It was not a source of fear yet, nor was the widespread use of magic humdrum and boring–or the oligarchs Mythal used to number among wouldn’t have risen to power on their magical merits. It was, then, a source of awe. Something everyone saw every day, but rarely performed to the perfection the oligarchs did.
But when Solas tore spirits and the magical river they composed away from the material world with his construction of the Veil, he robbed a great many people of the ability to…what? Not to manifest their imagination as reality–for mages still exist. Rather, he robbed them of the ability to…feel as though they were part and parcel of the parts of that world that were and remain malleable by imagination. They allow themselves to draw lines between their thoughts and desires–their dreams–and themselves. Solas drew those lines, and people reference them as important, necessary; integral to the living of normal life.
My favorite Jeanette Winterson quote goes like this:
“There’s this world,” she banged the wall, “and there’s this world.” She thumped her chest. “If you want to make sense of either, you have to take notice of both.”
Solas wrote that difference in stone. Before the Veil the two were one, and now they are not. In Mitchell’s parlance, if mages are writers–those who manifest the insides of their heads outside–what of non-mages, before the Veil?
Were they just people who appreciated a good story? The power of story? Or could they even appreciate it, suffused with the stuff as they were? It held up their entire world. Like electricity. Who now is moved by the magic of electricity?
Solas, like many a Dragon Age mage before him, does place value in the imagination and sees the cultural bias against mages as a struggle against the creative force as much as it is a struggle for actual power. This makes him profoundly interesting. But it also, potentially, galvanizes in him a dangerous bias against those who cannot use magic–he may look down on them, to a certain extent, as lacking in imagination, empathy, and insight.
And this may only be exacerbated by the fact that even those who can use magic in modern Thedas cannot see and converse with spirits in the way pre-Veil elves used to. The way Solas still does, in dreams. What is in fact an impossibility precisely because Solas made it so, he views in the common man as an intellectual inhibition. Which is, to be perfectly petulant about it, grossly unfair. But it may help further elucidate the level of loneliness Solas is dealing with. Nobody sees or feels what he does. Nobody has–potentially, for millennia. Certainly for centuries. And loneliness can make people crack.
Which may unfortunately be what our dear Egg is doing. However articulately. He may not care, either, if his magnum opus turns out to be a tragedy for all the characters–since, as far as he’s concerned, the best ones died out in the prequel.
However! For one so caught up in the manifestation of imagination in reality, Solas’ inability to fathom that the people of modern Thedas, hampered as they may be by the narrow scope of their spiritual vision, might still yet be capable of achieving beauty and wonder, represents a fundamental failure of his own damn imagination. This is a failure that the Inquisitor, if she romances him, makes him realize. It is this realization, even if ultimately accepted upon the loss of Solas’ power (perhaps through dematerialization if not outright death), that is likely our best hope to “save” Solas. I don’t know that he would allow for the existence of a story that forgives him without some extra-corporeal cost. But he can still manage to be the hero of his own tragedy, if we play our cards right.
And honestly, given Solas’ penchant for iambic pentameter, we might even get a soliloquy. Let’s Hamlet this shit up, people.
* Of course, not everyone’s desires were able to magically come into being–or else how could slavery have persisted? Unless we want to get into Stockholme syndrome, or if we want to glare and rub our gristly chins and look the camera balefully in the eye and insist that that is what happens in a world where mortal desires can pursue their own logical ends: injustice and cruelty and a confusion of power for divinity.
But elves weren’t mortal, remember? Mortality was brought about by Solas and his Veil. So these elven slaves he was rescuing? They were slaves for eternity.
Solas regrets ending the immortality of the elves. But did he forget about the people he fought to free? Having failed to end slavery itself–for we see it again in Tevinter, and how that must burn Solas to behold!–can he not view death as at least some kind of release from an eternity of servitude? Can he see no value in that? Possibly the answer is a resounding no. But if, upon death–actual death, versus the wakeless sleep of the elves–one becomes a spirit, or the seed of what could become a spirit one day, Solas more than anyone should not regard the loss of the material body as a loss the way mortals do. His desire to return to the elves to their power makes sense, but to return them to their immortality? That’s more confusing. Because death shouldn’t feel, to him, the way it feels to others. He knows what it looks like on the other side. Hell, he made the “other side.” Or at least drew the line between that side and this one.