Posted by: Jess Riley | August 31, 2008

Theme Week Romance: The Undead

As many of you have probably worked out by now, I like the Undead. I like them a lot. You can stop recoiling in horror now, I’m done with that line of thought.

I couldn’t think of any good posts for theme week (even though I was the one who suggested it to our administrator here at Blogatelle), except for the one that involves me raving about one particular race above all others – so, sorry, this is what you’re stuck with for now.

This is a thought that I’ve had for some time, and now I get to ramble about it at will; a simple question that I’m hoping to answer. Can the Forsaken feel love?

On the surface of things, this seems like a daft question. Why couldn’t they feel love? They can walk, talk, think, kill… why not love?

Well, really, I feel the question should be, “Why should they be able to love?”. We are, essentially, talking about a race of sentient corpses. Presumably, if love is something biologically defined (e.g. hormones), they shouldn’t be able to feel love at all. Their glands have presumably rotted along with their elbows and knees.

But, wait. This is assuming two things: one, that love is a purely biological, hormonal matter, and two, that the glands have rotted away and haven’t been replaced by some other force. The latter is certainly a plausible place for this to fall away: after all, they can think, or at least present a very good imitation of thought, and their brains should logically have rotted away as well. There’s obviously something keeping their brain intact, and performing the necessary functions for sentiency, but has the same thing happened to the glands?

To support that theory, that they do have some maintainance of glandular activity, I point to this quote from WowWiki:

Although undead, the Forsaken are still inherently human … Thus some of the Forsaken are still good beings, if no longer living … some individuals among them are capable of a tragic form of nobility.

This doesn’t explicitly suggest that they still have functioning glands, but I feel it points to one of two theories: one, that they do have glands and brains and all that, or something performing the same functions or two, that they are really good at thinking like they have fully functioning systems. In either situation, this comes back to the original thought: they can love, or act really well like they can love. (The latter of these two ideas steps in the way of my point about a biological/hormonal basis for love, and so I won’t go into too much detail about that point; essentially, I simply wish to note that while hormones may produce the sensations we have come to associate with love, presumably they could still think romance, if not feel love.)

So, this ends it all, right? My rambles have proven, or at least suggested, that the Undead can have romance!

Well, no, not quite. For starters, surely there are many amongst my readers who disagree with me entirely.

Secondarily, I would note that (and this is a favourite topic of mine – expect me to come back to this one sometime in the future!) the Undead are inherently psychologically screwed up. No, really. Yes, probably even yours. Think about it. They watched their loved ones die of the plague. They themselves died of the plague. They became a part of the Scourge, and it’s possible they still have some memories of that time. Now, they’re a part of a small, much-hated group fighting for their place in the world. No way are they psychologically healthy.

Having seen most of their loved ones die, or otherwise living with the knowledge that their loved ones are dead, part of the Scourge, or would kill them on sight if they saw them…

Most of them aren’t in a psychological state for any kind of romance – with the possible exception of rabid co-dependency.

Still want to roleplay a Forsaken in love? Sure, have at it – but I think I’ll be steering clear of that idea, and this is why.



  1. Jess, this is Blogatelle.

    You are now tasked with following this post up with a description of at least one, and at most three, ways that you could run an Undead romance storyline, staying in line with the thoughts you have put here.

    This is to be delivered by Friday.

  2. Blogatelle, I hoped I wouldn’t have to say this, but…

    You’re a jerk. šŸ˜›

  3. Very thought-provoking, Jess.

    While I agree with you that there are some of the Forsaken that would be limited to rabid codependency, I would have to say that it’s not necessarily the case for all of them.

    Look at society, for example. Determination and circumstances do different things to different people.

    At the risk of abusing a stereotype, consider two boys living in the same town, both in abusive homes. One has the benefit of good friends who are able to counsel him through this tough time and support him, and as a result, he excels in everything he can, goes to a good school, and becomes successful. He is self-reliant and confident, and takes setbacks with good grace, knowing that anything can be overcome.

    The other boy is a social outcast, because his experiences leave him withdrawn and sullen. He acts out to get attention, which always results in the wrong sort of attention being given, and the cycle repeats itself. His grades are barely, if at all, good enough to pass, he struggles through school, and much of his anger is directed at himself. Setbacks tend to collapse the tough front he shows to the world, and often results in heavy depression.

    Now let’s take this analogy one step further, and curse them both with undeath. Assuming the best (wait, what?) possible circumstances of the plague affecting both individuals, the first example is the one that strikes me as one who would retain his ability to love, to feel, and to remember what he was and those he cared about, keeping that nobility that you mentioned. The second example would be the one to fall into madness, to forget all ties, and to display that rabid codependency.

    I really think that it’s all depending on the circumstances of the individual, much like anything else.

  4. Now, that is true, but I do have a couple of points to make in response.

    Firstly, while it’s certainly possible that they could head off the emotional trauma if they had a good support network, I think it’s safe to say that for the vast majority of Forsaken, that support network won’t be there. That’s not to say it can’t ever be there – but for the majority, it won’t be. This sets them aside from the analogy of the two abused children. In that situation, which I assume takes place in our society, there’s a much greater chance of that support network being there, and typically it’s suggested that more abused kids have support networks than don’t (or at least, that the numbers are much closer). In the case of the Forsaken, far more would be fending for themselves than would have good support networks.

    Secondly, rapid co-dependency isn’t the only example of a way that psychological trauma could manifest. It was only one example that I picked, because it’s fairly iconic – there are other ways you could do it, including many present but more subtle ways (are they good, but does he get jealous easily? etc). They could be capable of love and romance, but maybe it’s not perfectly healthy. Maybe they could even work towards becoming perfectly healthy – but they’re not there yet.

    Sorry for rambling, and I hope you can see my point – even if you still don’t agree with it!

  5. I do see your point, but the point that I was trying to make was that it is the circumstances in life that would have the effect on the person after ‘death.’

    My analogy was a little vague, I suppose, but I was trying to illustrate how a strong-willed, confident individual in life would be more likely to retain their feelings and thoughts after being affected by the plague (using the teen-to-adult model was maybe a bad idea).

    The support network doesn’t really exist for the Forsaken, and I never meant to imply that they would have one. It was meant to model the character’s previous life, as a living individual, with family, friends, relatives, joys, hopes, and dreams… anything that would allow them to retain the bulk of their ‘humanity’ during their new existence.

    The only question I would have at this point would be, “Would the humanity deteriorate, and to what degree?” Hmm.

  6. There’s a better analogy for the effect of support networks in life on how they respond after death than childhood abuse; adult trauma (war, for instance).

    Consider a war veteran who has a good life before they leave, is deeply troubled by what they see there, and when they return, their family has left them or has moved on, and they have lost their own support networks.

    I’m not suggesting that they will lose their humanity from this experience (while I think the Forsaken do, for a mixture of this and the physiology of death), but it would certainly change them and make any relationships they built for some time afterwards shakier, less healthy.

  7. While I fundamentally agree with what you’re saying, Jess, I tend to disagree on one point that is, admittedly, less realistic and leands more on storybook caveat of the genre; the concept in fantasy fiction that love, being what it is, has a way of trascending all.

    Also, I tend to dislike the use of labels to various incarnations of love as though the emotion is anything less to the one experiencing the feeling in comparison to anyone else’s experience, regardless of the “health” involved.

    Toward that end, the undead mage I have on Moon Guard, Johanis, was born from the seed of a tragic love story. His fiancee also fell to the plague, and has reason to believe that she is Scourge and he desperately wants to find and free her, though it will likely never happen. It is by and large an “unhealthy” relationship, and he exibits signs of severe codependancy. But that said, I don’t feel that diminishes in any way his ability to feel the love he feels for his missing Clarah in any sense. Nor his potential in the future to develop another relationship.

  8. You are right; a relationship being unhealthy or co-dependent doesn’t make it any less real, or the love involved any less real. It does, however, mean that they’re less likely to be romantic and happy, there’s too often too much bitterness, hurt and, yes, I feel, unhealthiness there for the relationship to truly thrive.

    Can some of them get over that? Absolutely. Is it still love? Of course it is. I just don’t think it’s the happy, healthy relationship that it would be if they were in a different time and a different place.

    And to use your example, certainly it doesn’t make him incapable of loving another – but he’d also find it harder to find romantic love elsewhere, wouldn’t he? If he met someone he was interested in, he wouldn’t just abandon Clarah in favour of this new person without a care in the world, would he? I would assume that his emotional baggage would cause him some strife, though I imagine with the right responses, he would be able to move past that.

    This is just conjecture, but that’s my theory. Feel free to disagree with me if you like.

  9. Like I said, I agree on a fundamental level — or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that pragmatically, I agree, with your pragmatism. And the way I play love on my Forsaken tends to follow what follow your line of logic regarding thier challenged existances making them less likely to enjoy a “happily decaying after”, if you will.

    But love isn’t a pragmatic thing, by and large, and I tend toward wanting to avoiding look at it with a critical eye.

    I think there is enough room to look at the Forsaken’s ability to have relationships from the opposite side, as well; that they may be uniquely suited toward the most healthy and happy of all romantic endevours on Azeroth. That their shared experiences and losses have made them all the more capable of savoring and appreciating both individual, interpersonal relationships and love as a whole, as they understanding how difficult and fleeting existance can be and how the smaller things tend to matter.

    Especially seeing as how trauma, especially trauma shared by large groups, has a tendincy to unite as opposed to divide.

    I wish I would have put a little more time and effort in to my post above, I think I could have done myself a bit better. I’m sure Sean would vouch for the fact that by nature, I tend toward the hoepless romantic, and that I enjoy playing Devil’s Advocate. I think more than anything, those two things compelled me to respond.

    Although, I should be honest and say that I hadn’t gotten to your part two to this post before I commented on part one. And had I, I probally would have simply agreed over all and kept my merry little mouth shut. šŸ˜‰

  10. That’s quite alright – I appreciate that you took the time to respond. In all honesty, I typically agree with your points about romanticism. I just wanted to explore a more critical viewpoint with my post. šŸ™‚

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