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Know Your Lore: Magic is...

Matthew Rossi

The World of Warcraft is an expansive universe. You're playing the game, you're fighting the bosses, you know the how -- but do you know the why? Each week, Matthew Rossi and Anne Stickney make sure you Know Your Lore by covering the history of the story behind World of Warcraft.

For the past several weeks we've discussed magic in the World of Warcraft setting. We've talked about where it comes from and the various ways it manifests in the universe. We've talked about druidic, shamanistic, fel, arcane, shadow and the magic of the Holy Light. We've even talked about subsets of arcane such as necromancy. This week, things veer off into the speculative.

We've seen that there are different ways to achieve the same thing. Kel'Thuzad, a magus of Dalaran, learned necromancy from the Lich King. The Lich King gained his necromantic powers from Kil'jaeden, an eredar and second in command of the Burning Legion, which makes heavy use of fel magics, and the Lich King himself was originally Ner'zhul, a former shaman. Meanwhile, it was Ner'zhul's former studen Gul'dan who took demonic secrets from Kil'jaeden and developed Horde necromancy and invented the first death knights. Meanwhile, the mage Naberius developed his own form of the ritual of undeath that created liches with no help from any of them.

Likewise, we've seen that the naaru can tap into powers of the Light and also of shadow, just as priests can. And yet warlocks tap a similar shadowy power despite having no connection at all to the Light that fuels the naaru life cycle. Indeed, warlocks tap arcane magic to fuel their shadowy arms, even as priests tap the Light and its opposite. What does all of this mean? Ironically enough, a broken who became the first shaman of the draenei may well have stumbled upon the answer.

Everything that is, is alive. And magic? Magic is.

So if it lives

Consider for a moment the general hallmarks of a living thing. Living things grow, consume, and reproduce. Now consider magic and its role in the maintenance of Azeroth. The presence of the Well of Eternity was no accident, it was created by the Titans in the first place. Azeroth was shaped and molded. A primordial tap that draws the pure arcane magic that dwells throughout the universe -- the entire great, dark beyond -- was placed in the center of the only continent that existed at that time. Kalimdor was formed with the Well at its heart. Why was this done?

The Well drove change and growth. The Well created the primordial silithid that were twisted into the aqir and which, left untouched by the Old Gods, might well have fully developed into sentient beings. The Well created the kaldorei. The Well makes things change. Magic, as it is drawn into Azeroth by the Well, acts as a catalyst that drives forward frantic, furious, frenetic alteration on a scale undreamt of on other worlds. Worlds like Argus and Draeneor lived at a much slower pace, their native life taking thousands upon thousands of years to grow and change. On Azeroth, life bloomed and burst forth into new forms. Exposed to magic, beings become dependent on it; they cling to it; they even suffer if it is lost. Look at the high elves and their blood elf cousins, and compare them to their night elven ancestors. Then consider humanity and the Vrykul.

If the curse of flesh is really a creation of the Old Gods, why does it seem to so perfectly suit the Titans' plan for Azeroth and resemble so closely the effect magic has on those who wield it? We know it was the Titans who put the Well there. We know the Well has much the same effect on beings as the curse of flesh does. We know that the Well, not C'thun, created the original silithid who were twisted by the Old God.

Flesh not cursed but rather curses fleshed

Consider this possible scenario: There is no curse of flesh. More exactly, it's not a curse. After all, if the Old Gods created it to make assimilation easier, why would they empower anyone to remove it and make assimilation harder?

If the curse is instead the end result of the effect of magic exposure, the Old Gods would certainly not mind drawing magic out of beings rendered more dynamic, more chaotic, more godlike by its presence. Magic creates change, it drives forth the evolution of life on Azeroth, it is the engine for the Titan's creation, and it threatens the Old Gods. Indeed, it threatens other powerful entities as well. Even as they hunger for magic, the creatures of the Burning Legion seem to need to twist it into fel in order to properly make use of it. And Sargeras found a human gifted with magic to be a powerful tool.

Consider why Sargeras, a Titan (if an insane one), would seek the Well of Eternity when he almost certainly took part in making it (or at least is aware of its creation). The Well draws magic from the cosmos, not from the nether. It's magic that is inherent to the material that makes up Azeroth and everything around it, its entire universe. The Well is the creation of the Titans, but the magic is not. The magic is universal. The magic is everywhere. Humans can dig a well, but they didn't create water. Likewise, the Titans dug the Well, but they didn't make the magic it draws upon. The magic predated them. The magic predated everything. And it is the magic that is making Azeroth into what it will ultimately become.

Unbroken - Mickey Neilsen

And suddenly Nobundo understood... something seemingly so simple, yet a concept that had completely eluded his mind: there were countless worlds beyond. This much he had known, as his people had traveled to many worlds before settling on Draenor. But what Nobundo had failed to comprehend was that the power of the elements stretched far beyond as well. Each world had its own elements, its own powers to call upon.

And there was more. Out here in the void was another element, one that seemed to bind the worlds together, one composed of unspeakable energy. If he could call upon this one--but he knew immediately that he was far too inexperienced at this stage of his journey to commune with this mysterious new element. This was just a glimpse, a gift of understanding...

This mysterious new element is magic itself. Beyond arcane, beyond the Light or shadow, beyond nature, beyond the elements lies the primordial cosmic force that demands the ever growing complexity and sophistication of life. This principle is what Dylan Thomas called "the force that through the green fuse drives the flower." It is creation and destruction at once. The Old Gods and demons of the Burning Legion, which cannot create it, twist and defile it in order to make use of it, but even this act of corruption suits magic because it creates new kinds of magic despite their inability to do so. Magic grows, changes, reproduces by using them. Magic uses the Titans, uses Azeroth, uses every living thing to create more growth, more change, and in so doing, reproduces itself. Is the real architect of the curse of flesh not the Titans, not the Old Gods, but rather magic itself?

So too through the fuse drives our green age

When the High Elves first taught the short-lived humans the arcane arts, they were amazed at how quickly they took to the magic. When the orcs first learned magical arts from the demons of the Burning Legion, they quickly mastered them. Gul'dan invented whole new kinds of magic. Humans and orcs grasp and wield magic with alacrity even though they are at a great disadvantage in terms of how long they can live to study. Is this what magic wants? Does it seek to create short-lived, rapidly changing beings who will work the magic with a sense of purpose and urgency? Is that what the curse of flesh is ultimately all about?

The life cycle of the naaru goes from light to shadow because both are part of each other. Light casts shadows. Shadows are cast by light. Take as a microcosm for the universe, that great power that binds the worlds together and which is composed of unspeakable energy needs worlds to bind together; needs beings to interact with it. For without the universe and its unfathomable complexity; without the change that drives forth all worlds, it has no purpose and indeed no existence. Without a cosmos, how can one know that there is a power behind and throughout the cosmos? Without finite life, there is nothing to measure the infinite against. Magic needs magicians. Without the green fuse to drive the flower through; without the Well to seethe and sparkle within; without life to change it and wield it, the magic has no contrast to show that it exists.

Ultimately, the Old Gods, the demons of the Legion, the eternals and loa and other unfathomable beings all exist because magic exists. They drink it, eat it, and in so doing are ultimately serving its purpose and spreading it, changing it, making it more complex and in its way more alive. Even the Titans, with their vast creations, can only channel magic, not create it. In their Halls of Origination they had two watchers whose entire purpose was acknowledging the role chaos and magic played in their creation, Isiset and Setesh. Before Azeroth existed, magic did. Those that come to learn magic seem always to feel a need for more of it, and often become unable to countenance doing without it. Illidan, Kael'thas, and those that wield magic often seek it out wherever they can find it. Did Malygos sense this about magic -- that it ultimately had a will and a purpose of its own? Was his real goal not to protect magic from mortal hands but rather to try and keep magic in check?

If everything that is, is alive, then we must acknowledge that magic is.

While you don't need to have played the previous Warcraft games to enjoy World of Warcraft, a little history goes a long way toward making the game a lot more fun. Dig into even more of the lore and history behind the World of Warcraft in WoW Insider's Guide to Warcraft Lore.

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