When we began the whole racial theme week idea, both Jess and I admitted we were sort of confused when it came to the dwarves. What on Earth could we say anyway? They’re short, angry Scottish soccer hooligans with great facial hair, what more did you want? I had one idea, however, and I was raring to get into it: The idea of the dwarves as a society in the grip of a religious mania. The notion here was to look at the way an entire society basically shifts religion from the Light to the Mysteries of the Titans – Such a shift would actually be pretty disturbing and socially disruptive, I thought, and out of that comes dramatic tension, ergo role-playing. Role-playing really is dramatic tension, after all. Even comedy basically relies on dramatic tension; you can’t laugh if there’s not a dichotomy of what would normally happen with what does. There was only one hitch with my great idea for an article.
It’s, erm, not actually happening.
Sigh, it’s true. Look it up on WoWWiki – The World of Warcraft RPG (which, by the way, I’ll be reviewing for Friday or thereabouts most likely) makes it extremely clear that while the dwarves are becoming increasingly interested in their Titanic origins, none of them have yet started worshipping them as gods. Which means I’ve got to back to the bloody Holy Light, and could I be less interested in that? Answer: No.
Back when Alex Ziebart reviewed all the major religions of Azeroth for WoW Insider (still a fantastic bit of writing, by the by), one of the comments was surprisingly illuminating, because the commentator noted that if the Holy Light were a real religion, he’d want to sign up for it. And hell, I can see where he’s coming from. The Holy Light comes across like a great religion. Another person there noted that this is often the case with fictional religions; being formed from the modern day they’re free to play off modern virtues. I’m sure Judaism was fantastic back in the days when open tribalism and authoritarianism was considered sexy, but in today’s modern world Christians have to look at stories about she-bears mauling dozens of kids and come up with clever theological excuses as to why that sort of thing is in the bible at all, let alone with a vaguely disturbing approving tone.
So let’s quickly run over this one more time. The Holy Light is basically the official religion of the Alliance, with followers amongst every major race therein (apart from those heathen night elves who actually worship a deity, something practically unheard of in Azeroth) and the strongest followings amongst the humans, dwarves and draenei. Followers worship not a god per se but rather an abstract force, the Holy Light. The Holy Light is a sort of energy field, it surrounds us, penetrates us, it binds the universe together; and lives in our blood stream as midichlorians. OK, OK, not exactly, but still, just think of the Force and you’ll have the rough idea. It teaches three holy virtues: Compassion, Tenacity and Respect. In addition to this, it furthermore teaches two great sins: Neglecting the world and neglecting the self. Someone who lead a life of unabashed debauchery would be neglecting the world; they forget that there are wrongs out there that need righting and you can’t just live for yourself. On the flipside, a chaste, tee-totaling nun who gives all her money to charity would be promptly handed a box of condoms, a six pack, twenty bucks, a taxi-cab reservation and a warning to look out for paparazzi because spending all that time devoted to other people tends to leave the self a wee bit neglected. Balance is the key, the Holy Light teaches.
Now, as a real world religion, again, that would be absolutely primo, a real step up from a lot of the religious doctrines out there right now. It acknowledges the basic balance of all things, it stresses connectedness and charity while not making you feel guilty for enjoying a steak dinner and it doesn’t have a bizarre obsession with the evils of sodomy. If it really existed it might even be just the ticket to getting this bitter old atheist to sign right up.
But as a fictional construct? Abstracted representation of a holistic energy, it’s boring. I mean really boring. You could break it down into little pieces, sell it to pharmacies as a sleeping aid and it would have to go on prescription.
I know I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; if you’re going to do religion, pay attention to all its complexities and sociological difficulties – There’s not really that much difference between the terrorist and the charity worker; both are actually working on the same principles. The best fictional religion I’ve ever seen is the barely disguised Mormonism of Dogs in the Vineyard, which has innumerable actual flaws, perceived flaws due to our modern perspective, and yet can be the spark for endless good and altruism. This is how to do the thing.
By contrast, the Holy Light is pretty much perfect when it comes to capturing all the bastards and making it clear that being a bastard is actually against the terms of the religion. Angry bastard who wants to murder the non-human races? Wait, that looks like the ‘respect’ and ‘compassion’ virtues calling. Dangerously devout monk/nun? Wait, that’s the sin of neglecting the self! I guess there’s not actually anything in there against self-flagellation, but even so, the Holy Light is really well constructed to prescribe what is on the whole a pretty good life. And where’s the dramatic tension in that?
Now, let’s switch tactics and look at the Mysteries of the Titans. This is the name of a small sect growing amongst the dwarvish people. They’re basically a group of archaeologists, explorers and historians who have latched onto the unbelievably cool notion that the dwarves (and maybe the gnomes too) are the direct decedents of godlike beings called Titans, who crafted the world personally and were made from stone. As such, they’re digging up an old dwarvish settlement (which if I have it right is currently within horde lands) and searching like crazy for evidence, and better yet, they’re finding it. As such, they’re advocating heavily for the entire dwarvish people, that is every clan, to all come together and live there in their ancestral homeland. While they’re not yet worshiping the Titans as gods yet, one can hope.
So let’s recap: An ancient and presumably conservative dwarvish religion is being founded and its leaders are agitating for the dwarves to all join together, including clans who are bitterly opposed to the Alliance, to essentially form a mass pilgrimage to form a dwarvish Israel right on the Horde’s doorstep, where a group of archaeologists are digging deep into the ground where god only knows what sort of Lovecraftian horrors might exist.
Absolutely freaking brilliant, says I.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you do a damn religion. It is inspiring, horrifying and badly misguided all at once. Dramatic tension oozes from every pore of the concept. We can only hope that Blizzard picks up this ball and runs with it like a wide receivers looking at an open field where the defenders have been nailed to the pitch and a conveyer belt has been put down to speed him along to the scoring zone because this is one of the sexiest plots in Warcraft, and I really hope it gets more airplay.