Check Mate: Jaina and the Fall of Theramore

This was inspired by a comment Majoto left on my blog in response to this post.

“Unfortunately, because she’s [Jaina] a female character in WoW, this probably won’t happen. Blizzard is terrible at strong female characters. :-/

As I read it, I found myself back in a lecture theatre listening to my tutor talk about the themes of Victorian Literature. At length she discussed the two polarising roles of women in the Art and Literature of the period. The Angel of the Hearth in her guises as Mother, Madonna, Wife and her antithesis, the more popular Fallen Woman. To illustrate her point, along with lines of poetry she showed paintings of domestic bliss followed by image after image of dead girls floating down rivers trailing flowers in their wake or tearfully hurling themselves into angry rivers. Idly at first I found myself applying the same concept to the women of WoW, but then something dawned on me. Just like their Victorian counterparts, all our fleshed out female leaders are defined not by their own abilities but by their relationships with the men that surround them.

Take Sylvanas, the Dark Lady, the Banshee Queen, in a sense she’s the perfect embodiment of a fallen woman. Defined by Arthas, by the man who made her in his own image, who violated her and destroyed her. Her’s was literally a fate worse than death.

The grinning face of Arthas Menethil, with his lopsided smile and dead eyes, leers at her as he pulls her back into the world. Violates her. His laughter—that hollow laugh—the memory of it makes her skin crawl!”

Those are Dave Kosak’s words, describing a flashback she experiences at the start of his short story “Edge of Night“. Now I’m pretty sure if I read those sentences to someone out of context, the conclusion they’d jump to would be one of sexual assault. Again, when in Stormrage, she falls prey to the nightmares, it’s the Lich King who stalks her mind like an incubus. Her prowess with a bow is all but forgotten, it doesn’t matter that she was the Ranger-General because the second she met Arthas, her identity became bound up in his spiderweb. Then, when finally he’s defeated and she should be able to forge ahead with her own undeath, she seeks to kill herself because without him, without the hunt for revenge, life has no purpose to her. It doesn’t matter that she has obligations to both the Horde and the Forsaken, her intent is to throw that all away.

“She hurled the armor from the peak, watching it disappear into the roiling mists”

Kosak’s choice of verb to describe the mists conjures up angry turbulent waters, the kind that the Victorian Painters and Poets were so fond of casting fallen women. Like them, Sylvanas seeks oblivion by falling to her death, a suitably Victorian end for a woman who fell from grace. Of course falling in itself suggests the possibility of redemption, of being raised up again and through the Val’kyr, Sylvanas is given another chance. We will just to have to wait and see whether the rest of her story will be defined by her relationship with another male, her old adversary Garrosh perhaps.

Moira Bronzebeard straddles both worlds, embodying both the Mother and the fallen woman. When we first encountered her in Classic WoW, she was presented as the archetypical damsel in distress. Dragged off to a kingdom beneath a mountain by foul and unnatural magics, we needed to save her and break the evil spell.

It would seem as if my old adversary, Dagran Thaurissan, has me and the kingdom of Ironforge at his mercy.You may be my last hope, <name>. You must rescue my dear daughter, Moira! There is only one way to make sure that the spell Thaurissan has cast on Moira is broken: Kill him. And <name>, do not harm her! Remember, she is being controlled by Thaurissan! The things she may do or say are a result of Thaurissan’s evil spell!

The quest text is interesting, implying that perhaps Thaurissan only took Moira to further his quarrel with her father, which further weakens her position. She wasn’t even kidnapped for her own attributes but was merely a pawn in the game of men. Her actions too are not her own, she’s too weak to overcome this magic. However, once she is rescued over Dagran’s dead body, it seems that perhaps the truth is that she sought to replace a controlling father with a husband she loved. In the Council of the Three Hammers: Fire and Iron short story, she has moved from possible victim to the villain of the piece. She’s manipulative, cunning and sly, unlike the two male representatives of the Council who have proven track records in battle and who are portrayed as proud upstanding men. What I find particularly interesting is that she is the heir to the throne through blood and yet she’s a side character in the Council’s story.

In unison Muradin and Kurdran looked to Moira, as did the entire gathering in the Great Forge. She stood alone.

The Ironforge heiress glanced around as if she were searching for some escape.

Despite being in her own city, despite being the legitimate heir to the throne, like the Victorian fallen women, Moira is ultimately on her own. Outmanoeuvred, caught out in her lies and snared in a trap of her own making. It doesn’t matter that she did what she did to try and strengthen her position and that of her son, her motivation is unimportant because like Shakespeare’s Richard III, she just needed to “prove a villain”.

On the other side of the scale, we see the “Madonnas”, the wives and the mothers of Azeroth. For the Alliance we have Tyrande Whisperwind, from strong powerful woman to a Stepford wife in the time it takes a Druid to yawn, stretch and wake up from the Emerald Dream. Her passivity is reinforced in her name, “Whisperwind”, it’s gentle, non-threatening and relaxing especially when compared to Malfurion’s. “Stormrage” screams with aggression and anger, whilst Tyrande is almost mute. It’s not surprising then that he is the one telling her to “hush”.

Then we come to Aggra, the receptacle for Thrall’s sperm and his reward for being a totally awesome Orc. Like Tyrande, she’s powerful and smart in her own right and yet all that becomes eclipsed as soon as she becomes a wife. Her own story stagnates because now she serves as a mirror to reflect the greatness of her mate. I’m not denying there are strong women populating Azeroth, but most of them are bit parts. Quest givers who show up once or twice before sinking back into obscurity. Thisalee Crow, Sergra Darkthorn, Magatha Grimtotem and Stormcaller Mylra (better known as the “tiny, angry woman”) all spring to mind. There are women in S1:7, women in the Kor’kron Elite, women in the 7th Legion but when it comes to leadership, to the women who should have strong personalities the writing seems to fall flat.

Which brings me to Jaina. With the coming destruction of Theramore, Blizzard have an opportunity to break the mould. Give us a woman who isn’t defined by a man, give us a woman who can stand on her own two feet and doesn’t need rescuing or saving or protecting. Up this point, Jaina has mostly been a sidekick of some sort, chasing after a variety of unsuitable and/or bad tempered men (Arthas, Varian, Kael, her father and Thrall). For most of Wrath, she was the angel of the hearth to the Banshee Queen’s fallen woman, believing that there was still something of the man she loved within the monster and risking everything to try and save him. When she wasn’t chasing Arthas, she was holding Varian’s hand to make sure he wasn’t smashing stuff. Surely now is the time to let her forge her own identity.

The cover of the forth-coming book “Jaina Proudmoore: The Tides of War” doesn’t give me much hope for that however as we’re right back to the Victorians and their fondness for drowning women. (Image borrowed from here).

As I see it, there are four possible options for Jaina once Theramore is nothing more than ashes, bricks and bones.

  • Jaina dies. Nothing motivates armies more than a dead white women.
  • Jaina becomes a damsel in distress. Varian rides in, saves the day, rescuing her from Dragon Garrosh. Next thing we know, she and Aggra are sharing pregnancy tips and Anduin has a sibling to play with. Well, they say you should always have a “heir and a spare” and given the mortality rate in Azeroth, having half a dozen “spares” probably makes sense. Also Royal Weddings inspire the populace and since people are probably claiming Horde bias at the fact that Thrall got one, Blizzard need to give the Alliance one too.
  • As with 2, Jaina needs rescuing from something but manages to go a bit mad in the process, her desire for revenge makes her unstable and as everyone who has ever played Dragon Age 2 knows, angry mages are a dangerous thing. Think Jane Eyre “madwoman in the attic” and she ends up locked up somewhere in Stormwind talking to herself and trying to burn her prison down.
  • Jaina surprises everyone, but especially the Horde by being awesome all by herself. She manages to hold her city for as long as possible and then escapes, saving lots of people and of course rescuing Spot the dog in the process. In an ideal world, she ports her tower to safety or at least out of the range of the Horde weaponry, even if she ends up getting rather wet in the process.

Of all these possible scenarios, I’d like to think that 1 and 3 are the most unlikely. Jaina is an iconic figure and I don’t see Blizzard killing her off. Plus if she dies, the “Tides of War” would be a rather short book. As for 3, Jaina lost Arthas to the same madness. She saw first hand where his quest for revenge at all costs led him. Surely having seen that, she won’t make the same mistakes he did. It would be completely out of character for her, after all, she’s meant to be smart, a quick thinker, surely all that studying paid off. As a Mage, I’d like to think she subscribes to the “Revenge is dish best served cold” school of thought. That sure, you can get mad, set things on fire and yell at people but you don’t rush off a suicide mission only to need rescuing (see 2) or take a leaf out of the Garrosh Hellscream tactical manual just because you’ve realised that the whole “blessed are the peacemakers” line is a total lie propagated by people who want to invade you but not have the inconvenience of you invading them. You wait, you plot and then when the moment is right, you strike.

Whilst I desperately want it to be 4, the cynic in me errs towards 2. We know that the developers are on a campaign to make Varian cool and nothing says “awesome” and “heroic” like rescuing damsels and puppies from burning buildings. I used to play Chess a lot when I was younger and sacrificing your Queen is perfectly acceptable strategy which when applied to WoW, could be extrapolated that the entire destruction of Theramore is nothing more than the chance to advance Varian’s story at some point in the future (especially if Varian’s story = the Alliance story).

Certainly I think Varian Wrynn for the Alliance really needs to be the kind of character that players really look up to and see as a major world figure. And I think if you ask players right now, they don’t quite see him that way yet.” Dave Kosak.

Now yes, he could rescue her without any romance being involved anywhere down the line but given how love seems to flourish under Azeroth’s angry skies, I can’t help but think if saving is involved, it’s probably going to come with a soundtrack of wedding bells.

Thanks to Tzufit’s post on Archbishop Benedictus, I found myself re-reading “The Blood of our Fathers“, Varian’s Leader short story and something stood out. Jaina is mentioned through out, which is fair enough. She and Varian have plenty of history, from fighting in Undercity side by side to watching the Argent Tournament together. However on the last page, this line caught my attention.

As the crowd continued to shout, Varian glanced over at Jaina and Anduin, fighting down his own wave of deep emotions

Why include Jaina? Anduin just saved his father’s life, so Varian’s feelings for his son who is his only living family are one thing but to include an advisor and a friend in that moment seems a little odd. A little later we come to this:

As the crowd cheered, the king stole a glance back at the Honor Delegation. Jaina was smiling and Anduin was applauding louder than anyone

Once could be considered a strange oversight but twice.. yes, Jaina’s a friend of both Varian and Anduin but so are many of the other people thronging the Keep and yet they aren’t mentioned. Throughout the whole of Varian’s story, the theme is one of putting the past to bed, of beginning anew. Is there more symbolisation in the handing over of Tiffin’s locket to Anduin than is made obvious in the story? Is it just about giving the Prince something tangible of his mother’s to keep him safe or is Varian perhaps subconsciously getting rid of the past so he can begin again.

“I have not always been the best leader… or father… or husband.” Varian’s eyes became glassy with memories. He turned and nodded to his son.

“A wise man once said, ‘We each must grow in every direction, every day.’ Well, I still have some growth left in my bones. And behind me, I see a city rising from disaster, with fresh hope and gleaming new spires!”

Given that’s he’s still king, he can improve on his leadership skills, he can work on being a better and more understanding father but without a wife, it’s hard to be a better husband.

Regardless of how the Destruction of Theramore plays out, I hope Jaina demonstrates the annoying survivability of the average frost mage. Please let her stick her tongue out at Garrosh before blinking to safety and let her kite the Horde forces from Dustwallow to Ashenvale. We already have enough female leaders who barely deserve the title, so here’s to hoping that Jaina goes for channelling Elizabeth the First rather than having the vapours and collapsing on the floor.

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16 Responses

  1. You know… I’ve never been too good with lore – but I was totally absorbed in this. Kudos!
    I’m with you on the hopes for what happens in Theramore. That coming to fruition would be amazing.

  2. Omg great read and great writing. I couldn’t stop till it was done!

  3. Fascinating post. I couldn’t help but read this through the lense of an educator (which I am) as well as a gamer (which I also am). There’s a lot of discussion in educational circles regarding the efficacy of gaming and learning, and I think your post is an awesome example of how it can be done right.

    Not only did you analyse trends in the game in relation to a broader sociological theme (namely the portrayal of women), you also tied it back to other literature sources (in this case Victorian Lit) and examined how the themes were similar across stories.

    Worth passing along to critics of educational gaming methinks :)

  4. I so appreciate your more in-depth analysis of these archetypes, and in my opinion, you are spot-on. Something has always nagged me about these female characters, and I kept hearing haunting whispers from Virginia Woolfe in my mind–women not being a reflection of a male counterpart’s journey is truly difficult. The only one that immediately comes to mind is Balsa from Moribito by Nahoko Uehashi. Perhaps it’s time I dusted off my own academic journey and seek other examples outside of Western culture, because the smelling salts are pretty damn abundant here!

  5. Postscript: Spent hours at the hairdressers, and the main topic of discussion is always, always, the men in our lives. /Sigh

  6. Wait, wait – one more thought–you know, in these archetypcal dynamics, no one ends up happy. Perhaps that is ultimately the moral of the story?

  7. Wonderful read, it makes it just that much harder waiting to see which prophecy may turn out to be true.

  8. What a great post! I think the themes you introduced here are present in a lot of other media we consume as well (which is probably why I don’t watch many movies). I hadn’t realized these limiting roles stemmed from Victorian literature!

  9. My own fear is a variation of #3 — that Jaina ends up in the Angry Irrational Fridge and ends up being “saved” from her own hysteria and emotions as well from as any physical threat (as opposed to the self-righteous “rational rage” of King Chin). Men as leaders are allowed to be angry and somehow that anger is seen as just, whereas a woman’s anger — especially a woman in leadership — is seen as unnatural regardless of justification (see also all the misogyny tossed against Sylvanas).

    Women are just prizes and props in the WoWverse and I fear that trend will continue with Jaina — her own story and goals sacrificed and strangled for the anvil/albatross that is Varian.

    • I agree 3 is definitely the worst option.I’m just hoping that Blizzard think it would be a step too far based on her personality up to this point. However, given that there is a history of lore figures going to bed thinking one thing and waking up and doing the opposite, there is a scary amount of precedent.

  10. Fantastic post. Jaina has already been reduced to a ‘foil’ for the paths of male characters, as a pseudo-mother to Anduin in The Shattering and referring to Varian as ‘my King’.

    The artwork for Tides of War reminds me of the artwork in the latest run of Batwoman, which had a water-themed water ghost woman as the villain – http://cdn.batman-news.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Batwoman2.jpg

    I’ve not paid that much attention to victorian tropes recently, so I think I’ll have to do some reading. I’ve been thinking a lot about ‘Wives’ in MMOs recently.

    • Thanks for your comment. I think the line which made me cringe the most was in Varian’s short story.

      “When dealing with the Ghost Wolf, Jaina knew it was best to approach his heart rather than his fangs.”

      It’s like a line from a bad romance novel. I can just see the cover, especially if it was written post destruction of Theramore. Jaina dripping wet in a “scandalous night gown” because of course the Horde attacked whilst she was sleeping and Varian clutching her tight to his “manly” chest whilst wearing full plate to reinforce the difference between him and this weak woman he pulled from the sea. No doubt his sword would be visible too :(

  11. @Avi I got interested the lore through the leadership short stories that they brought out recently, they’re all well worth a quick read if you haven’t. I’d read a couple of the books before that, but that was turning point for me.

    @Amijade Thanks

    @Mike Ty. Victorian Literature is one of my favourite periods for a variety of reasons and this could easily have gone on for another few thousand words or so.

    @Matty Thanks. Now I have an urge to go and re-read Virginia Woolf. At this rate, I’m never going to get packed :p

    @Tome As long as it’s not 3, I think I’ll be mostly ok with it. I just think having her hysterical would be such a huge cop out on the part of the writers as well as alienating a (hopefully) large chunk of the player base.

    @Redcow I think you can trace them back before the Victorians in one form or another but certainly in 19th century Literature you see a lot of women drowning or being pulled back and redeemed from the waters as well which is why I went for the Victorians because it seemed to tie in so perfectly with the short stories and of course the forthcoming novel cover.

  12. [...] polishing off my bagged sandwich lunch at my desk, I came across this fascinating discussion on Harpy’s Nest via MMO Melting Pot. Even though I wasn’t really intending on posting anything else today (I [...]

  13. [...] post was inspired by many things, by my own post on the Women of Warcraft through a watery lens of Victorian Literature, by Anne Stickney’s [...]

  14. […] “Check Mate: Jaina and the Fall of Theramore.” The Harpy’s Nest. 8 May 2012. Website. 26 November […]

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