Real Life Lore: Tyrian Settlement Through 12th Century Eyes

As a medievalist I read a lot of books which form the basis of fantasy worlds like Tyria: Arthurian romances, tales of chivalry and myths of exquisite beasts which have been told and retold for centuries and have become embedded in our culture. In the present day, people draw upon these legends for inspiration, be it for books, films or videogames, and the world of Guild Wars is no exception.

What I’d like to do today is begin to look at possible sources of inspiration for Tyrian lore, beginning with the pre-history of the world, and what the game creators may have drawn upon in the birth of Tyria.

A brief gloss of Tyrian pre-history is possible through archaeological evidence in-game, however there are little surviving texts from that period which makes it difficult to have a true understanding of the events of that time. The Giganticus Lupicus, or true giants, are believed to have walked Tyria before 10,000 BE (before the Exodus of the Gods), when they went extinct at the hands of the Elder Dragons. They can be seen as the ‘true inhabitants’ of Tyrian land, having been the original occupants. Far later, around 786 BE, the Six Gods settled in Tyria and brought humanity to the world, who pushed from Orr into Kryta and Ascalon.

A similar situation is recorded in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae (published c. 1136), which tells the tale of the original settlers of the British Isles, their battles and struggles, and the stories of the kings who ruled, including Arthur. Brutus, who is exiled from Greece for the accidental murder of his parents, sets sail with the Trojans for a new land free from persecution and attack. In his hunt, he comes across a Goddess in a dream, who tells him the following:

 “There is an island […] once inhabited by giants,

But now it is deserted, ready to receive your people.

There kings shall arise from your line, and unto them

Shall all the lands of the Earth be subject.”

 

If we look at what this passage says, we can clearly see the parallel between the message from the Goddess, and the assumed message from the Six Gods of Tyria: humans go to a land which was once dominated by giants but is now empty (in Tyria, this is due to the rampage of the Elder Dragons, from which the land is still recovering), and are sent to rule. The humans in Tyria’s eldest age, with the assistance of the Gods, assume power over three kingdoms, and conquer the natives in those areas, such as the Charr in Ascalon.

One key difference we can see in the lore is divine influence: although Brutus is originally directed by a Goddess he receives no further help for his quest, and pushes back the native residents of the British Isles through the battle strength of his people alone. The Tyrian humans, before the exodus, are backed by the Six Gods in their ivory towers in Orr, and spread across Tyria with their blessing. It is not until after the exodus that this falls to pieces: Ascalon is lost to Charr raids and the eventual Foefire, and Orr is destroyed in The Cataclysm, leaving only Kryta as the last standing human nation. In this contrast, there is perhaps an element of judgement by the writers: did the humans ever deserve to thrive in Tyria, as they are aliens to a land that was already dominated by the native races? What does this say about Brutus and the Roman invasion of Britain, and the near decimation of the native peoples and languages of the island?

The plot of Guild Wars 2 requires the cultures of Tyria to work together, and from the player’s perspective there must be a degree of empathy in the plot-lines of all the major races. This requirement is not something that Geoffrey of Monmouth must consider, and as a result The History of the Kings of Britain can be xenophobic at times against the Celtic inhabitants of Britain. Like the Charr were in the original game, the Picts are described as barbarians, uncivilised and unintelligent, when we know for a fact that both races were just as smart as their invading counterparts. This kind of description permits the invading party to treat them inhumanely: the Ascalonians skinned Charr for their pelts and wore them in quite sick and twisted ways… You may have come across the following armor as a warrior, for example…

 

Warrior armor, using pelts and the skull of a Charr for decoration.

 

In Eye of the North, the one true expansion, the humans made beginnings in changing their view of the Charr: the hero’s interaction with Pyre Fierceshot and his warband allowed the Ebon Vanguard to learn more about, and accept, the structure and focus of Charr society, which although far more warlike than that of humanity, was very ordered, intelligent and civil. At the point where Guild Wars 2 begins, such knowledge is commonplace, although many humans are still frightened of, and angry at, the Charr for their actions during the invasion of Ascalon.

Monmouth does not require this understanding and acceptance: the Picts are mostly marginalised, and the focus turns to the crown and its struggles. Examining the plot of the two Guild Wars games gives us an obvious answer as to his reasons: there is no political requirement to involve a marginal party in his Historia. The importance of the Charr to human society increases with the introduction of Queen Jenna’s peace negotiation, and thus the narrative of their violent past becomes important to those who oppose them. This is particularly visible in Ebonhawke, as citizens discuss their sympathy with separatists.

Essentially, what Geoffrey of Monmouth is able to do is ‘trim the fat’ of the story: his Historia is one-sided by necessity, while the plot of Guild Wars 2 forces us to consider all the opinions. To Geoffrey the answer to the question “was the invasion of Britain morally wrong?” isn’t a consideration, however we must think through the situation of the Trojans: if they returned to Greece they would be persecuted, and a Goddess told them they had the right of divine conquest. Their alternative would have been death. Likewise, the Tyrian humans had no home to return to: they had been brought to the world by the Six Gods, who gave them the divine right of conquest. What choices did they really have?

Both the Charr and the Humans have committed atrocities in their time, and both sides have suffered through circumstance. Monmouth only allows us one side of the story, but Tyrian lore gives us both. The question is: which side do we choose?

 

References:

Geoffrey of Monmouth, The History of the Kings of Britain [trans. by Faletra, Michael A.], 2008 (Toronto, Broadview Press).

 

An eternal explorer and occasional mist warrior, Muffins stumbles around Tyria searching for hidden lore while failing jumping puzzles. When she’s not summoning swarms of butterflies on her Norn Mesmer (Medi Crunch Cereal), she studies for her BA in English Language and Literature, makes Let’s Play videos, updates her many blogs and writes an article or two.

Further reading:

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About Muffins

An eternal explorer and occasional mist warrior, Muffins stumbles around Tyria searching for hidden lore while failing jumping puzzles. When she's not summoning swarms of butterflies on her Norn Mesmer (Medi Crunch Cereal), she studies for her BA in English Language and Literature, makes Let's Play videos, updates her many blogs and writes an article or two.
  • Distilled

    Brill article – very interesting comparisons drawn between the two stories. A lot is said of the influence old norse stories on fantasy media, but I think there is something to be said for other cultures such as medieval as you say, but also Hindu, Chinese and other eastern cultures.

    • Muffins

      Thanks! :D Unfortunately my knowledge of Eastern culture isn’t fantastic – there’d definitely be a lot of cool things to pick up on in Factions if you had the knowledge to see it. I do think the European stuff is particularly relevant to this kind of game though, especially since Prophecies was a very European medieval fantasy game in terms of environment, character creation, weaponry, lore etc. If ArenaNet release a Canthan expansion to GW2 then I’ll start researching :)

      You did mention the Old Norse stuff specifically though – I’ve read a few of the Icelandic Sagas before and there are so many references to them within GW1 at the very least. They’re mostly in character names (Gunnar is the most obvious one) but it’s very interesting to see where they’re used and how to stories tie into the context of the character.

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  • Sean Glover

    Beautiful article. Thanks! I’m excited to keep digging into the lore… that the humans are the “aliens” for once is an awesome concept :)

    Cheers.