Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
– Emily Dickinson
I’ve had this poem swimming around in my head ever since I read the latest official Warcraft novel, ‘Before the Storm’ by Christie Golden. Every time I think about the book, I keep thinking about hope, and what it means to lose it. And what becomes of the person who does.
~*~*~SPOILER ALERT for ‘Before the Storm’ and some Legion-end specific content.~*~*~
It was the latest episode of the Rolling Restart podcast during which Rho and Ben Bumhoffer talked about their opinions on the book that I got to thinking about my own thoughts and where I thought it was all going. (Side note: Rolling Restart is one of my favourite podcasts, by the way. Comes out every fortnight, and Rho gets some awesome people on to talk about random things.) And it was during that podcast that I realised I had ‘Hope is the thing with feathers’ in my head since finishing the book.
For me, ‘hope’ was such a prevalent theme throughout the book: Sylvanas’ hope for the future of her people, the forsaken, and Anduin’s undying hope for peace between the factions are the two first obvious instances. But it went so much deeper than that. Magni’s hope that Azeroth herself would survive; Grizzek and Sappronetta’s hope for each other… everyone’s hope that Azeroth might survive, and the people living upon its earth would see out their days in peace.
Isn’t it hope that keep us going each day? That gives us a reason to wake up in the morning and go about our day? Hope that, if things are not good, they will get better; or if things are well, they stay that way? I feel like every part of this book played with the notion of hope; what it means to have it, and what happens to those who lose it.
And I suppose that’s why I keep coming back to this poem.
One of the criticisms I have seen of the book has been the character of Anduin and his relentless pursuit of peace. As if peace is a weakness, a youthful innocence that is not becoming of a king, and something to be ashamed of. As if wanting to be good and happy and kind, and wanting that for others, are character flaws. They are not. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. How strong must your heart be to believe everyone is capable and worthy of happiness? How sturdy your soul to know peace is possible? And how brave must you be to feel all of this, when your own heart has just been broken in the most horrific way. The fact that Anduin is still capable of love and compassion and hope after everything he has been through (not just the recent obliteration of his father) is a testament to his resilience as a human being.
There’s a nobility in being able to see past the darkness around you to give light to others. And it’s for this reason I believe Anduin is one of the strongest people in the Warcraft universe. But it is also for this reason that I am terrified for him.
Until now, Anduin has embodied the theme of the poem- his hope is deep inside him, and it sings, sings, sings. But it’s this line that troubles me:
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
‘Sore must be the storm’. In a very literal way, we know a storm is coming because the book is quite literally called Before the Storm. We also know a storm is coming because it’s what triggers events in Battle for Azeroth. But what else will it trigger? Will Anduin’s little bird of hope be ‘abashed’? Or worse, silenced?
There were so many times that I cried during the reading of this book. I felt like my heart kept getting broken over and over again. Most of the time it was because it seemed like Anduin was being repeatedly punished for his hope. I cried as he publicly said goodbye to his father, and then as his servent, Wyll, passed away, and especially so when he watched in horror as the hopes of his people were destroyed and their family members murdered. Each betrayal would be enough for most people to crumble. But he just.kept.going. And still, at the end of the book, there his hope is, singing away.
But what if what is to come is too much? What if it’s the last that his hope can take? What becomes of someone like that? Well, I think they start to become like my other favourite character…
I am not saying Sylvanas is without hope. Far from it. In some ways she is almost just as hopeful as Anduin. Maybe even more. Because if you want to talk about a survivor, Sylvanas is the Queen of them. There are few people in Azeroth who have been through and seen what Sylvanas has. She has literally been born and reborn and reborn again, and that changes a person. (Quite literally in Sylvanas’ case). Sylvanas could never have become the Queen she is today if she were without hope.
But Sylvanas has a different kind of hope. To go back to the bird analogy, I think Sylvanas’ hope is a screeching bird- Loud. Constant. Desperate. It’s a bird that’s weathered the storm.
One of the things Ben said in the Rolling Restart podcast was about Sylvanas being protective of her people. Almost like a mother. It’s a great thought, because what is more fierce, more determined, than a mama bear protecting her family? It’s this protective nature that seems to drive so many of Sylvanas’ actions. She wants only to keep her people safe. The difference with her hope, though, is the way she strives to achieve this. That desperate bird calling inside her is why she takes such drastic, and sometimes cruel actions to do what she believes is right for her people.
In a way it even explains why she was such a cold-hearted bitch to her own people as they prepared to meet their still-living family members. She wants to help them, to let them ‘live’ forever. To give them a future better than the extended rot they face. She knows that if her peoples’ families reject them, they will have to live with that for the rest of their lives… and she doesn’t want that for them. She is desperate to protect them from their own hope. The trouble will be if she becomes desperate for them to love her… but that’s another topic for another day.
When we talk about criticisms of Before the Storm, most of them are around how Sylvanas is portrayed in the book, as being another villain; another Garrosh to defeat at the end of Battle for Azeroth. I find it disappointing that people are not looking deeper than this… but again perhaps another topic for another day. Suffice to say, if people believe Sylvanas to be so one-dimensional, they are missing some of the most interesting parts of her character. We need to remember- she’s not human. Her reasoning is different. Her motivations are different. Her hope…
It’s Sylvanas’ hope for her peoples’ future that makes me believe that it’s entirely possible for her to talk away from them so that they may be lead by the new ‘undead-but-in-a-pretty-way’ Calia Menethil. I don’t know how this would happen, but I believe it’s possible. I believe Sylvanas could sacrifice herself, knowing her people could be taken care of by Calia, who is now one of them.
Or maybe I’m wrong, and Calia’s situation will be the final straw for Sylvanas, and will tip her over the edge of being protective, and becoming all out vindictive instead. (An Undead divided, even?)
Regardless of what is to come, what Before the Storm did for me was show me just how much Sylvanas loves her people, and how her hope for them and their future is what motivates her. And even though I don’t agree with her methods, even though I cried my heart out as she had her own people murdered… I understand. Her hope still screams.
After Before the Storm
I feel like I could write about this book for days. How I became an emotional wreck reading it. How I loved the interracial relationship, and how I held my breath as they fought to survive. How I felt like I was being punched in the gut over and over again.
But I won’t.
Instead, I’m going to read it again. Because I really, really enjoyed this book. But most of all… most of all I felt proud of my King, I felt a better understanding of the Banshee Queen and I am full of hope that Battle for Azeroth is going to rip my heart out again with an amazing story.