"Rejection of the Gift" Discussion: Illidan Stormrage & Cosmic Forces of Azeroth
The World of Warcraft expansion Shadowlands is out today. I would like to take a moment to discuss a video from the Warcraft universe called "Rejection of the Gift." I'd also like to begin by stating that I am by no means an expert in Warcraft lore. So if you're looking for a comprehensive guide, there are much better sources out there. I am just a fan of the series who played off and on over the years and casually enjoys the game. So while I do have some understanding of the lore, please forgive me if my explanations are simplified or missing technical details. This article is not aimed at die-hard Warcraft fans, but rather an audience of people which may include many who never played the game. Also, the point of this article isn't so much to explain Warcraft lore in painstaking detail, but rather to use the lore as an analogy.
World of Warcraft
For those who either lived under a rock or were too young to play video games in the mid to late 2000s, World of Warcraft is a massively popular fantasy themed video game that borrows a lot of mythology from various sources of literature. Imagine something along the lines of Lord of the Rings, meets H.P. Lovecraft, with a dash of Star Wars. The original game released in 2004 and has seen eight expansions over the past 16 years. Some people have literally been playing the same video game, using the same character, for all of those 16 years. The game had over 12 million subscribers at it's peak in 2010. If you didn't play it, you probably know someone who did.
This scene comes from the Legion expansion released in 2016. As the video begins, we see High Exarch Turalyon (tur-el-yun), a Paladin. He is kind of your basic white knight goody two-shoes character. He serves The Light, wants to do good, and thinks that everything he does is for the greater good. While he may be mistaken in that belief, overall he is a valiant warrior who has served his people incredibly well in defending them from chaotic forces. He is a classic hero.
We see Turalyon follow a pair of Dranei (aka space goats) carrying a shard of some sort. They lay the shard down in the middle of a chamber, among an arrangement of other shards which suddenly begin to glow and rise up in to the air, forming a mystical being known as a Naaru (Gnar-ew). A sentient energy being. You know, that thing you're hippy girlfriend thinks she's turning in to when she sits up straight and points her nose and two fingers in the air and virtue signals to herself; "I'm a sentient energy being."
The naaru are a race of ethereal beings that use their powers to spread life and hope throughout the universe. They are also agents of The Light. More about that later.
Last but not least, we have Illidan Stormrage, the Anti-Hero, and the focus of this video. But before I get to him, I want to explain a little bit of his background, as well as the cosmic forces at work in the World of Warcraft universe.
There are multiple cosmic forces that shape the World of Warcraft, as illustrated on this chart. Different beings will derive power from different forces. If we start from the top and go down the left side, we have the constructive forces of Light, Life, and Order. If we start from the bottom and go up the right side, we have the chaotic forces of Shadow, Death, and Disorder.
Followers of The Light would include Paladins and Priests who utilize Holy Magic. On the opposing end, we have Warlocks and Shadow Priests who have converted to the "dark" side and utilize Void Magic.
As described by wow.gamepedia.com:
Then we have the followers of Life which utilize the powers of nature. These would include the druids, monks, and shamans. My main character in the game is a Tauren Druid. I personally like Druids because something about their ability to turn into an animal just appeals to me. Druids in the World of Warcraft are also a jack-of-all-trades type of character class, who can shapeshift in order to adapt to a variety of situations. Think of a Druid like your local handyman. He can handle a wide variety of common household problems and is an excellent utility to have around, but some of the more serious issues may require the assistance of a specialist.
So in the same way that Priests and Paladins can heal others though their use of holy magic; life or nature magic can also be used by Druids, Monks, and Shaman to heal others too.
On the opposing end of Life, we have Death which utilizes Necromantic energies, and would include Death Knights and Necromancers.
Followers of Order utilize Arcane magic, and would primarily include wizards or "Mages" as they are known in Warcraft.
Followers of Chaos and Disorder utilize fel magic.
To put it simply, think of the cosmic forces as operating on two different opposing ends. The Light Side and the Dark Side, if you will. And each force has a diametrically opposed force that it is bound together with by it's very nature. Like a complex game of cosmic tug-o-war, with poor old reality stuck in the middle playing the part of the rope.
There's an entire page that goes into way more detail. Check it out if you want: wow.gamepedia.com.
That's enough about cosmic forces. Let's talk about Illidan's back story. So Illidan Stormrage is a very powerful character in the World of Warcraft. In some aspects, he could be viewed like an Anakin Skywalker / Darth Vader type. A character who essentially gives in to the "darkside" in a vengeful attempt to acquire the powers denied him by his teachers. As such, he was the main boss or primary antagonist of the second expansion The Burning Crusade released in 2008. Where Illidan led an army of demons who utilize fel magic to sew chaos and destruction across the land.
Illidan Stormrage was once a rather innocent young Night Elf who practiced the ways of nature and was seeking to become a great leader of the Druids, along with his twin brother Malfurion. While both brothers showed great promise, there was much attention drawn to Illidan due to the fact that he had been born with amber eyes. A sign of great potential.
Illidan was in love with another Night Elf named Tyrande Whisperwind, who liked him back. However, unbeknownst to Illidan, Tyrande was actually in love with his brother Malfurion. We'll get back to that in a moment.
If I said that Illidan is like Anakin Skywalker, then his Obi-Wan Kenobi would be Cenarius, a powerful demigod under the forces of nature. Cenarius had initially agreed to teach the Stormrage brothers the art of Druidism, however Illidan fell in bad favor with the demigod who perceived Illidan as clumsy and impatient. So Cenarius informs Illidan that he will no longer teach him, and that his brother Malfurion will be the first mortal druid on Azeroth (a planet most similar to Earth within the Warcraft Universe). He also tells Illidan that if he wants to continue studying the way of the druid, he must do so under his brother's instruction.
So Illidan is disowned by his teacher and see's the woman he loves falling deeper in love with his brother. I think you can see where this is headed. So Illidan says, "screw you Druids, I'm going home" like a little Cartman and runs off to sulk. Meanwhile, he has a little demon whispering in his ear the whole time. Apparently the followers of Fel magic had become aware of this Night Elf with the amber eyes who showed great potential, and they were Hell-bent on recruiting him.
So this demon follows Illidan around like a little Smeagol whispering things along the lines of "fel magic will make you powerful" and "if your brother was gone, she would love you." Which does it's job on the scorned and spite filled Illidan. So he goes "Darth Vader" on us and seeks out the Skull of Gul'dan. Imagine that in this universe, Emperor Palpatine is dead but Darth Vader finds his skull and absorbs the emperor's evil energies with it. Now you have...
Illidan The Betrayer
A powerful Demon Hunter who has been corrupted by chaotic forces and now leads an army of demons known as The Burning Legion. As I mentioned before, he is the primary antagonist and final boss of the Burning Crusade expansion. This was back when the game had nearly 10 million subscribers. So if you don't know this character you probably have an older sibling or family member who does. This was the big badass with the double double-blades who spouts the catch phrase that I like to shout at my dinner on Thanksgiving morning; "You are not prepared!"
So players of the game at the time united to take down Illidan, who was defeated and then that was that. Until 2016 when The Burning Legion came back! Making another attempt at conquering Azeroth. Now the evil emperor Palpati... I mean, the dark warlock Gul'dan is alive. However, this time Illidan would return as a sort of "prodigal son" figure, leading the fight against The Burning Legion of which he once served.
Now we are at point in the story where the video takes place, Illidan is no longer under the chaotic influence of The Burning Legion. High Exarch Turalyon has just returned the missing shard which has brought the Naaru named Xe'ra back together. Xe'ra informs Illidan that he is "The Chosen One" who is supposed to fulfill a prophecy as the "child of Light and Shadow" by bringing the demons to an end.
She reminds him that his eyes always showed such great potential, and requests him to let go of his "shattered form" and "embrace the Light's power." Illidan mutually agrees that they both share a common goal in ending the demons. However, he declines the recruiting attempt stating that he's traded his "freedom for power before." He knows how that worked out for him and he's not looking to repeat the same mistake again. He's skeptical about the Xe'ra's intentions.
At this point Xe'ra binds Illidan's arms together. Attempting to force the completion of her prophecy upon him, stating that his "old life has passed" and "the Light will heal" his scars. Illidan growls back in defiance, "I am my scars!" This part always gives me the chills. Illidan knows damn well that his scars have made him who he his. They are him. His scars are proof that he is strong. To take away his scars would also take away the learning experiences that gave him those scars making him the wise and experienced bad-ass necessary to take down an army of demons. His life is not anyone's to take and use as a puppet for their own agenda. His "destiny" is his, and his alone.
At this point he absolutely obliterates the little S.E.B. Releasing himself from her clutches by shattering her into many tiny little pieces. Mr White Knight Turalyon is furious! "You doomed us all! Betrayer!" he shouts, as he pulls out his sword and attempts to strike Illidan down in a fit of rage.
Illidan catches the blade in his bare hands. Yes, his bare friggin hands. Because he's an absolute badass. Although you can see some more scars forming on his arm as he holds it back, because Turalyon is also badass in his own ways. However, in this situation, his "faith has blinded" him. Illidan states "there can be no "chosen one." Only we can save ourselves."
To be continued...