Burning Anger and Broken Hearts or why I learned to pity Staghelm

Throughout Classic WoW I was always firmly in the “Staghelm is a jerk” camp. A combination of his attitude, standing up a tree bare-chested being rude to passers-by, the obsession with morrowgrain and his whining about Tyrande meant that  I watched at least one Horde raid group slaughter him without lifting a finger to help. This morning I completed the Smoke-Stained Locket chain and now I find myself feeling sorry for him.

He couldn’t prevent the death of his wife in childbirth, he couldn’t prevent the death of his only son during the Qiraji war and his behaviour as a direct result of those losses meant that he wasn’t in a position to protect his grand-daughter. Yes, a large portion of his problems are self inflicted but still he seems a tragic figure. Just like Aristotle’s idea of the Tragic Hero, Staghelm starts out as a good man (not necessarily a nice one), one who is respected by his peers and given positions of command (both in war and peace). Then circumstances start to spiral out of his control. I know that according to the book “Stormrage“,

“the archdruid had not been responsible for Valstann’s demise” (pg 70)

but as his son’s commander, he must have felt partly to blame. Add to that being forced to witness Valstann’s death and I imagine his guilt would be almost overpowering. The quest “Tragedy and Family” eludes to this when Staghelm says “Time passes, yet the sting of his death will not fade”.

Again his downfall is textbook Aristotle. His major character flaw is hubris (with a side order of jealousy), he puts his own desires (for his son) and his own beliefs (in the superiority of Nightelves) before all else. The fact that he was one of the main architects of Teldressil against the wishes of at least one of the Aspects reinforces that sense of hubris. It’s sort of the Azerothian equivalent of thumbing your nose at the Gods. His choices were steered by this need to save his son but can we blame him for that? It’s an all too understandable flaw, the response to protect those we love, whatever the price. With Xavius playing the part of the fake medium, offering hope when in reality there was none, Staghelm was doomed from the outset. Although it’s hard to believe that on one level or another, he didn’t see the truth behind his actions. That he couldn’t see the madness in his chosen path.

“Valstann will know just what! My son will have the answer” (pg 255)

However it seems that his clear need to believe must have superseded everything else. His arrogance is also shown in the end-game he and his nightmare child are planning.

“Valstann and I will show our people the way and they will be the better for it! Teldressil will be the instrument of a new, glorious Azeroth!” (pg 262)

 No doubt that’s a brave new world with himself at the head regardless of the wishes of any of Azeroth’s people.

This also highlights the differences between Staghelm and Tyrande/Malfurion. The latter two are portrayed as selfless leaders of their people. Staghelm is the polar opposite, everything he has done is driven by his selfish desire to undo his son’s death all those years before and of course, by his own quest for power.

When it comes to the punishment, I find myself defending him like Antigone defends the actions of her traitorous brother, Polynices. What Staghelm did was wrong, corrupting the World Tree surely goes against everything a Druid should stand for. Attempting to keep Malfurion trapped through the use of Morrowgrain also counts as treason I would imagine but what price did he pay? To lose your child once must be terrible but to lose that same child twice must be mind destroying, even if the second time around was merely smoke and mirrors. Add to that fact, that when his granddaughter (all that was left of his son) needed him the most, he was a broken man, locked up in prison and unable to save her must have ripped away what little sanity he had left.

No doubt it was inevitable that his jealousy and dislike of Malfurion and Tyrande would spill over into a desire for revenge once he was rescued from his prison cell and restored to some semblance of sanity. Yet, he still goes looking for his daughter-in-law. A convenient response would be that he’s just recruiting allies into his new order but I find myself wondering if that’s the sole truth. Most of what he’s done has been motivated by family and Leyara is all that is left of that family. I know that tragic heroes are meant to learn something during their fall but I’m struggling to see what the moral of this story is other than the dead tend to stay dead (only in Azeroth that really isn’t true) regardless of what we wish for. Going back to Antigone, this seems so appropriate:

Blest, they are truly blest who all their lives have never tasted devastation. For others, once the gods have rocked a house to its foundations the ruin will never cease, cresting on and on from one generation on throughout the race— like a great mounting tide driven on by savage northern gales,

Which in turn brings to me back to Leyara.

Perhaps it’s just me, but I don’t particularly like Malfurion’s tone. Did he do anything to stop Leyara’s rage consuming her? It appears not. No one seemed to do anything to stop Staghelm staggering down the path of disaster either and Malfurion’s words could equally describe Fandral as much as Leyara.

“the bonds of family are often stronger than  the power of reason,”

I am glad we get to keep the locket because part of me thinks that the bonds of blood should be more powerful that reason. Leyara and Staghelm are not much different from ourselves, but grief and anger allowed them to become twisted. In Leyara’s case targeting her rage not the Horde who were ultimately responsible for her daughter’s death, not at Staghelm for managing to get himself locked up when his family needed him the most but at the outside world. In the ex-Archdruid’s case becoming a monster like those he started out by fighting against, by letting hatred and jealousy rule.

It serves a reminder that but for the grace of Elune, there go I.