May 16, 2018 8:18 PM   Subscribe

I recently started playing Dragon Age: Inquisition and have been feeling a very strong urge to imagine/write/research more about my protagonist beyond the in-game lore. What are some narrative/historical/artistic/other sources that might be helpful in imagining the experiences of a woman who is denied an interior life from birth within an ordered religious society, but escapes and slowly discovers her own subjectivity, power, and spirituality? I'm looking less for fantasy, and more for tracing similar ideas in ethnographies, histories of witchcraft and slavery, autobiographies, etc.

Note: possible Dragon Age spoilers

I've never written any kind of fic so my apologies if this is a pretty basic question. My friend hooked me on this concept by explaining to me the role of mages in Qunari culture. In the world of Dragon Age, the Qunari ("people of the Qun") are giants with horns that follow a religious code of life that is very esoteric/secretive from the perspective of outsiders. Some among the Qunari are born as mages -- same as any other race in this world. However, these Saarebas ("dangerous ones") are understood to essentially be weapons and otherwise non-entities. The Qunari chain the Saarebas, sometimes stitching their mouths shut. My friend explained this as the Qunari do not view their mages as having any kind of interior life or subjectivity, instead bringing the Saarebas into battle in a cage (or box) (this might deviate from the in-game lore slightly).

In the game, you can decide that your protagonist is a Qunari mage (or Saarebas). As soon as I created a Saarebas in the character creator, who I named Binta, I just felt this intense desire to understand her experience (regardless of what the game has to say about it). What would it be like to be someone perceived by everyone around you to have no subjectivity, and thus by your nature being something incomprehensible to others? I definitely see parallels to slavery and colonialism, though I'm wondering how that might play out within a closed society with a strong in-group identity (maybe subjugation within an intensified social caste system, or dehumanization more broadly..)

In Dragon Age, Mages draw their magic power by tapping into this kind of alternate dreamland/reality called the Fade, which contains a kind of imagined shadow world generated by a collision of spiritual forces (and other stuff I'm sure). I suppose a parallel, imagining a Binta in closer to a real-world context, would be an individual that tapped into a kind of "power" that was dangerous and threatening to the established worldview. Perhaps an individual who was pursuing a private understanding of spirituality, or a heretic labeled a witch, or an early experimenter with electricity, or somebody claiming abilities in alchemy. This makes me think about women across historical and cultural contexts who were feared for their beliefs and/or their fluency in threatening ideas and skills...

I'd love to push these early ideas beyond this particular fantasy landscape! I also don't want to necessarily fall back upon medieval European archetypes and examples, but rather, learn new things about threatening/incomprehensible subjectivities, being a heretical/outsider woman, possessing beliefs and/or skills that threaten social order, all of that good stuff! Also in general if you have any tips about pursuing and nurturing headcanon, that would be lovely.

Thank you!!
posted by elephantsvanish to Media & Arts (3 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
First of all, I LOVE this question! DA:I got me back into writing after a very long dry spell.

You absolutely have to read The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin. It is sff, but not white/eurocentric sff, and you pretty much described the thrust of it here: "threatening/incomprehensible subjectivities, being a heretical/outsider woman, possessing beliefs and/or skills that threaten social order."
posted by sonmi at 7:11 AM on May 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

I also love this question! I'm having trouble coming up with examples, but the main character in the movie The Secrets (Ha Sodot) is an ultraorthodox Israeli Jewish woman who keeps her studies in Kabbalah a secret from her peers. Also queer stuff happens.

For general Qun-spiration, I've looked superficially into societies with rigid caste systems, but haven't found an example of a caste that's appreciated for AND despised because of its function. Medieval Jews being the only folks permitted to lend money comes to mind, but that's more of a Dalish vibe for me.

I'll keep brainstorming! Also, I'm sure you know this, but Binti in-game is going to periodically refer to her own parents as being Tal-Vashoth, and she being raised outside of the Qun. Either you can ignore that, or you can headcanon it's a lie, or work it in some other way. Everyone's imagination is different.
posted by fast ein Maedchen at 2:37 PM on May 18, 2018

Also here is my favorite piece of fanart featuring baby mage Adaar.
posted by fast ein Maedchen at 2:45 PM on May 18, 2018

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