Silent Screams: The voiceless Women of WoW

This began as a comment on the Godmother’s blog in response to this post. Then it grew and grew and grew, taking on a life of it’s own.

I come from a long line of Matriarchs, women whose character was forged through necessity. Widowed by war, by illness, they did more than just get by. I look at WoW and the closest images there are to my female role models are Magatha Grimtotem, a minor but compelling villain, one who might not reappear in the narrative at all and Therazane who does very little in terms of plot. As for the rest, it’s dead, dying or having babies. I’m not stamping my tiny feet and demanding that women take over the World of Warcraft, far from it but having one or two female characters written in such a way that the women playing this game could take inspiration from them isn’t much to ask. Films, books, tv series and computer games, we sink into their worlds because we’re shown versions of ourselves, the people that in a different set of circumstances we might have been. The characters you can identify with on one level or another are always the strongest but what does WoW offer? The age old stereotypes of women placed on pedestals or biers. Voiceless, their tales are only told as part of someone else’s story.

Azeroth mirrors our world in so many ways apart from one. Men have a far higher survival rate than women, it doesn’t matter if you go off to war with a huge sword, the odds are, that it will be your wife who dies whilst “safely” at home. Child birth seems to be a particularly nasty killer even though there are so many healers running around raising people from (near) death. We can save someone who has been garroted or eviscerated but child birth defeats our magic, or perhaps in the eyes of the story writers these pesky females have done their jobs by giving birth to the next generation of heroes and villains and it’s easier to kill them off. Character development 101, he went bad because his mother died horribly or he became a sterling example of the Light because no one bothered saving his dear old mum. The fact that it’s rather lazy storytelling doesn’t seem to bother anyone. Look at the faction leaders, so many single parent families. Cairne had to bring up Baine by himself although no one seems to know what happened to Mrs Cairne. What happened to Moira Bronzebeard’s mother? No takers, well what do we know about Jaina’s mother or the Lich King’s? Where is Garrosh’s mother and Saurfang’s wife? The common theme appears to be that they are mostly dead or just not written into the story.

I think it’s hugely telling that perhaps the most famous woman in WoW, at least from a Barrens Chat perspective would be Mankrik’s wife, a woman who didn’t even warrant a name until Cataclysm and who has been dead for the entire narrative. Yes, she’s the Warcraft version of Helen of Troy, with more than 1000 adventurer’s launched in her name but she’s the ultimate passive female. Without going to WoWhead, just how many of you can name her? How many have been to see her memorial in the Barrens? It’s a common theme, Tiffin Wyrnn…. nothing more than a huge marble monument in Stormwind Graveyard and a story telling device to help cement the fractured relationship of father and son together. When I hit 84 and got those quests to escort Anduin around, I misread one of them, thinking he was asking to see the graves and for a brief second I thought that’s sweet, a quest to take him to see his mother’s tomb and perhaps put flowers there but no, he just wanted to visit the harbour and chat to person called Graves.

Then there is poor little Tilloa, mentioned only in passing quest text.

However the elder daughter, Tilloa, seems exceptionally smart.  I couldn’t help but to notice her captivating beauty as well.  She is on the cusp of womanhood now.  Supposedly the Lord has arranged her marriage for next year.

(from the Legend of Stalvan)

She’s dead long before we the players get involved, just the same as Eliza (the reason behind us letting Stitches loose on the good people of Darkshire). We get to avenge her but not because we care, not because we know anything about her other than Stalvan’s jealous ravings but for gold and blues. With her fragmented mention in his diaries, we learn everything we need to know about her and like the differences between Petrarch’s writings about Laura and the woman she actually was, all that matters is how he tells it. The final insult, the spit on the grave, is that her lasting memorial will be written by her killer.

So we come to Taretha Foxton and that quest chain in Caverns of Time: Durnolde Keep which always leaves me frustrated. The good old Queen’s gambit, sacrifice the woman to save the Orc. Not only does the story imply that she’s a victim of sexual violence but in the end she’s executed to make a point and of course help Thrall become the Warchief he was destined to be. Next there is Elysa, linked to Taretha not only by their shared possession of Thrall’s necklace but also by their status as forced mistresses.

The pendant? Of course you can have it… Take it! I want no memory of him… just please, please leave in peace…

(from Taretha’s Gift).

It doesn’t exactly sound like a happy relationship does it. In order to make the bad guys look bad, certain boxes need ticking and cruelty towards women seems to be an easy choice.

It’s not just playable races that suffer either, we can’t forget Keristrazsa. The dragon who my questing characters now leave trapped in her bubble because ultimately she’s better there than becoming the broken creature we end up facing in the Nexus.

Aggro: Preserve? Why? There’s no truth in it! No, no, no… *laughs* Only in the taking. I see that now.
Frost Nova: Stay! Enjoy your final moments.
Death: Dragon Queen… Life-binder… preserve me…
Enrage: Finish it! FINISH IT! Kill me or I swear by the Dragon Queen you’ll never see daylight again.
Kill: Now we’ve come to the truth!

If that’s not bad enough, we even got to loot her broken heart with it’s disturbing flavour text just to make sure the message got through.

“A tragic end to a sad tale. If only Malygos’s abuse of Keristrasza hadn’t driven her insane.”

Yes, I couldn’t wait to breach the Eye of Eternity and slaughter Malygos but I’d have felt the same if he was breathing fire on kittens or trampling on the goldclover. Keristrazsa’s not the only female sacrificed in the process of making sure the entire player base knew that the leader of Blue Dragonflight was a little mad, bad and dangerous to know either. Let’s not forget poor Emmy either or our hand in the death of both her and Keristrasza.

Finally we have the women who aren’t dead only missing like Mia Greymane and her daughter. Last seen during the fall of Gilneas, we have to assume they survived but that Blizzard just didn’t bother putting them in game either in Darnassus with the other refugees or in Stormwind with their husband/father. I thought perhaps they might appear during the Hallows End festival, especially as it’s been somewhat taken over by the Gilneans but nothing.

Now I’m not denying that there are men who fall into these categories too, necessary sacrifices in order to keep the plot boiling along (Liam Greymane would be a prime example) but they tend not to be the victims of sexual violence and kidnapping in the process. So in conclusion, this is partly why I was taken a back by people who couldn’t believe that we were complaining about the lack of female characters in the MoP cinematic. It’s not that I want the female characters to outnumber the male but more that I want future generations of girls to grow up playing games, reading books and being inspired by the women they find on their screens and within those pages. To understand that they don’t have to be a footnote or a victim but if they want to be up there, wielding the metaphorical equivalent of a claymore…. then good for them. Also perhaps if little Vanessa Van Cleef had a mother, then Old Blanchy wouldn’t have had to die!

Personally I have high hopes of Sky Admiral Rogers but the cynical side of my brain fears that she will either fizzle out, letting the “men” do all the dirty work or will go slightly more psychotic and become a caricature of the woman she could be.

We are, I am, you are

by cowardice or courage

the one who find our way back

to this scene carrying a knife,

a camera a book of myths

in which

our names do not appear.

(From Diving into the Wreck by Adrienne Rich)

One thing I’m sure of is that I don’t want my nieces and god-daughters growing up and asking why their names do not appear. Oh and female Ogres wouldn’t go amiss either.

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Something Wicked this way comes: Magatha and Macbeth

This 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 recent WoW Insider post, by Red Cow Rise’s post about the lack of Women in the Panderian start zone and finally by a random snippet of conversion I happened to over hear in trade chat. Magatha Grimtotem, three dimensional female character or a paper villain, a coward, a prop to further the stories of the men who surround her? Trade Chat was dismissive, calling her a pathetic cow amongst other things too impolite to print, although given the usual quality of trade chat (at least on my server) … this was still an improvement  on the normal conversions.

Wind Serpents, Forsaken and Strange Tablets

Our first introduction to Magatha came in classic WoW where she was a fixture in Thunderbluff handing out quests. Right from the start it was made clear that she was a delightful villain with her own agenda, one who glorifies in taking the opposing but “correct” view point to many of her fellow Taurens. Her use of her own summoned wind serpent to try and scare Cairne and perhaps to turn his supporters against him is inspired as is of course her use of us (questers) as dupes, both to spread the arrival of this troubling new omen,

I fear she may be stalking Cairne Bloodhoof; too much Tauren lore has changed, and I fear this has angered Arikara. Move quickly before all is lost, 

and then to help her deal with this “threat” to Cairne. She couldn’t be seen to either announce the creature nor to be directly involved with it, in case it created suspicions in the minds of those already suspicious of her loyalty so she came up with a perfect plan. One that even included helping to destroy said creature to make her look blameless.

In fact her strategy could be summed up perfectly by the advice Lady Macbeth offers her husband,

Your face, my thane, is as a book where men
May read strange matters: – to beguile the time,
Look like the time; bear welcome in your eyes,
Your hand, your tongue: look like the innocent flower,
But be the serpent under’t, (Act 1, scene V)

and Magatha even nailed the serpent bit perfectly.

Her encouragement and aid to the Forsaken also made her stand out. For example when the Goblins were destroying the forests of Stonetalon, it’s the Forsaken in the Pools of Vision that Magatha sends you to.

But I fear that to heal the land, we must first remove the disease upon it. Is it not fortunate, then, that the Forsaken are allied with us? They know much of disease.

Her creative solution to the problem is to get the Forsaken to poison those pesky Goblins. Note again that whilst she sent you to talk to the Forsaken, her hands remain clean of anything which might follow. All she did was suggest you talk to a nice Forsaken Lady. This is a pattern which keeps emerging, Magatha prefers getting other, more expendable people to do her actual dirty work. Although  surely that’s just the sign of a good leader, one who intends making old bones.

Finally, there was the Tablet of Beth’Amana, that strange tablet Magatha happened to really want from Azshara. Why would the Elder Crone want something written by one of the Highborne’s most influential Alchemists, a wizard who it is claimed could transmute metals amongst other things.  It makes you wonder just what came under the heading of “other things”.

“A drum, A drum…”

When I was at University, I had the pleasure of watching two people act out Macbeth and that is how I see Magatha, especially in The Shattering, she’s Lady Macbeth, Macbeth himself and of course the Three Witches all rolled into one glorious character. Switching from role to role as the scenes require, first the witch planting poisonous seeds in fertile ground, then the confidant, the wife/the mother, making sure everything goes to plan and finally playing Macbeth attempting to secure what she bought in bloodshed.

It’s her words softly spoken into Garrosh’s emotional ears which lay the ground work. She picks her moment perfectly, Garrosh, like Macbeth has returned from a great and successful campaign when he’s waylaid by his very own Crone. Both of them have new and shiny titles,

I have heard you called the Hero of Northrend, and I think that an apt title (Pg 47 of the Shattering, Thrall to Garrosh)

and Macbeth is newly called Thane of Cawdor on top of his own existing title yet both have a hunger for more. Magatha pushes the right buttons, mentioning first Garrosh’s father and then his own deeds claiming to be impressed by them, knowing that the boy inside Garrosh will fall for her flattery, especially in the light of his “treatment” by Cairne and Thrall. Just like the Three Witches, Magatha influences the events which follow. Her title too, “The Elder Crone” plays into this idea of her as a witch, a wise woman with the answer to everything, even the question not yet asked. Even those that don’t trust her, respect her abilities and her opinions.

Then later, she reinforces what has already been said, making sure Garrosh “does the right thing”. She doesn’t want his weakness getting in the way. It’s not hard to imagine Lady Macbeth’s words coming from Magatha’s mouth.

That I may pour my spirits in thine ear;

And chastise with the valour of my tongue

Of course she is helped by Garrosh’s personality and his fear of looking stupid. He doesn’t want to question her motives because that might highlight his own lack of knowledge. He accepts because she has offered him a prize, already mentioned, the support of her clan, her tribe and to bring the Grimtotem to heel, to accomplish something so quickly that both Thrall and Cairne never managed, of course he’s going to leap at the chance.

Her need then to dispose of Baine also harks back to Macbeth, just like him she needs to rid the world of anyone who might contest her claim. Macbeth needs to remove Banquo because his prophecy proved true, so might Banquo’s which would mean Macbeth murdered for nothing and Magatha can’t let Baine live for the same reason. What’s the point of going to all this trouble of removing one obstacle to your’s hearts desire if you don’t clear the path completely, if you leave their offspring behind for your enemies to unite behind. Unfortunately for Magatha, you just can’t trust anyone these days and her efforts fail.

Their downfalls have marked similarities too. Both Magatha and Macbeth are undone by what could be classed as their own dominion. As King of Scotland, regardless of how he came to the crown, it was his own forests which turned on him. The land itself rebelling against a traitor and a murderer is a powerful symbolic moment even if those trees move because there is an army of angry men beneath them. Magatha is a powerful Shaman and yet during the attack on Thunderbluff, storm clouds shield the zeppelins from prying eyes until it’s too late.

It emerged from it’s cover, as garishly colored as the concealing thundercloud had been subdued, an airborne ship with a bright purple balloon hovering over it. (The Shattering, pg 282)

Both Macbeth and Magatha “win” through deceit and trickery, so it’s only fitting I suppose that both lose the same way. The true size of avenging forces hidden by a moving forest on the one hand and by stormclouds on the other. Macduff lost a wife and his children to Macbeth’s hand and Baine lost a father so perhaps it’s not surprising how similar their words are to the respective objects of their wrath.

Then yield thee, coward,

And live to be the show and gaze o’ the time:
We’ll have thee, as our rarer monsters are,
Painted upon a pole, and underwrit,
Here may you see the tyrant. (Act V, Scene VIII)

Can be easily compared to,

Baine Bloodhoof was crouched over her, holding the peculiar weapon high. “Yield!” he cried. “Yield, murderess and traitor!”. (The Shattering, pg 286)

Coward, traitor, tyrant and murderer, all four words could be applied both Magatha and Macbeth. It doesn’t matter what they did before, the great warrior and the powerful shaman were both reduced to nothingness in the eyes of those passing judgement upon them.

The Doomstone 

We next encounter her in the Thousand Needles, where it seems that she’s slipped away from her exile in Stonetalon Mountains. Somehow her capture by the Twilight Cultists seems a bit off, even with her totems broken you have to question if she got captured because that happened to suit her purpose, not because a bunch of fairly inept “we want to bring about the end of the world” cultists managed to overpower her. That perhaps her ultimate aim was always to get her hands on the Doomstone using us and the Cultists, just like she used Garrosh.

“At the core of Animus is an artifact known as the Doomstone. One of its properties is an ability to absorb a great deal of energy.”

I wonder if the tablet of Beth’Amara and the Doomstone are linked in anyway. It certainly sounds like something a Highborne might cook up. Perhaps the tablet either described the creation of such an artefact or included a map to it’s last location. There are a lot of Highborne ruins littering Stonetalon Mountains and who knows what they might have left behind.

So what’s next for Magatha?

I think we can be assured of one thing, she will be back, it’s in her nature. She has reasons to hate both Garrosh and Baine but I imagine that she of all people understands the benefit of revenge as dish served cold.

Could the Doomstone be used to help destroy Theramore? A case of one (Doom)stone, two birds perhaps. We know from the excerpt from the forthcoming Jaina book (Tides of War) that the Focusing Iris is likely to play a part but could the two items be used together to create a very nasty weapon? When we first encounter the Doomstone, the Cultists were trying to overload it using Animus but since we killed him, anyone wanting to unleash the Doomstone might have to find another source and the Focusing Iris would fit that brief perfectly as it “pull[s] arcane magic from Azeroth’s ley lines”. Magatha also has every reason to hate Jaina and her city, after all, she gave Baine sanctuary from Magatha’s malice and troops from Theramore have been a constant thorn in the side of the Marsh’s Grimtotems.

She might manipulate them all, offering the Doomstone could help her regain some favour with Garrosh and the rest of the Horde but Garrosh doesn’t seem the type for second chances. It might even be more underhand, perhaps just like the Queen in Snow White, maybe an old Crone or a passing pretty young Orc might offer Garrosh aid with his war plans, with the Doomstone acting as a poisoned apple. All Magatha would have to do is sit back and watch the chaos unfold, potentially getting her revenge on Garrosh, Baine and Jaina as the tides of war spill across Azeroth once more.

There are similarities too between Magatha and Fandral Staghelm. For much of vanilla they were both the proverbial thorns in the side of their respective faction leaders so perhaps Magatha will follow in his footsteps and become a raid boss. Certainly her last comment to us, the players indicates that as a potential possibility:

For rendering me faithful service, I grant you your life. Take it and be gone from my sight. Let your people know of all that has transpired.

And <name>, if we ever cross paths again, you will die.

If she does “trick” Garrosh once again, seeing her as a raid boss in a fall of Orgrimmar type raid would make sense, although I think she’d be wasted that way. I’d like to see her continue to make plans and plot away, WoW needs more characters like her. There is a shortage of female Tauren raid bosses though so perhaps she should become one.

Finally, a little while ago Matty at Sugar and Blood asked this question:

“Why can’t the Queen “win” because she’s smart, not because she’s evil?”

I think this sums up why Magatha is so important to WoW, she does win because she’s smarter than the rest, okay, she’s temporarily having a bit of a setback but they happen to best people. She’s definitely ruthless but she stands in stark contrast to a lot her male counterparts in both her patience and in her planning. Would Garrosh or Varian have waited and watched for the perfect moment to strike? Given their track records to date, I’d say not. Even Cairne managed to lose his temper with Garrosh in a relatively short period time. I suppose I like Magatha because unlike most female baddies, she’s not driven by emotions. She doesn’t scream or shout or whine, she just does and that’s rather refreshing.

Is she evil? Well taken at face value what has she actually done? Her husband died in a climbing accident, but that could have more to do with the unsuitability of hooves for climbing rock faces than anything else (They called it Head-Smashed in Buffalo Jump, not “Buffalo gracefully skipping down cliff” for a reason). If we look at some of the other men of the Grimtotem tribe we could also argue that if she did do it, well then “he had it coming” (writing this post left me with a definite desire to do a Magatha Grimtotem version of both that song and also the old classic, “50 ways to kill your lover”). She assisted in Caine’s demise for sure, but we have to remember it was a “fight to the death”. One of them was going to die regardless, Magatha merely ensured that “her Warchief” prevailed. Pragmatic yes, practical yes, but evil?

The attack on Thunderbluff and the other Tauren encampments were messy sure but there are distinct similarities between that and Varian’s attack on Ironforge, both were ruthless and show a clear lack of regard for life. Now yes, Varian was attempting to rescue his son but Magatha too was trying to ensure the best for her “family” (and her). What’s right or wrong is often determined purely by the winners and this time, Magatha ended up on the wrong side of the line. In many ways she’s the archtypical Matriarch, just like my own Grandmamma. All that matters is blood and there are no lines that she wouldn’t cross for her own because the “other” are nothing but vermin in her eyes.

She doesn’t want to end the World, where’s the fun in that and she doesn’t want to turn everyone into mindless monsters which makes her fairly mild in comparison to some of the really malignant creatures Azeroth is inhabited by. If evil in WoW is defined simply by your body count, then by that definition we’re all evil, there is no shade of grey and if not, then Magatha might err on the murky side but most of her choices can be understood and justified if even you don’t support them.

A world at war needs it’s Elder Crones.