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On the True Form of Tamrielic History and the Spreading of Knowledge

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Lady N's picture
Joined: 06/26/2010

Author - Lena D.

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[Chapter excerpted from The Letters of Lena Dranleth, New University of Gwylim Press, n.d.]

Dearest Madeleine,

My deepest apologies for taking such a long time to respond to your letter again. I spend entire days among the bookshelves. I forget to eat, I forget to sleep, I forget to write to you about my progress. It cannot be helped; this library has me firmly in its grasp. Last week, I found that they have a magnificent section on Mer linguistics that almost rivals the one you have assembled in your study. How I long for the semester to be over, so that you can come here to see it for yourself!

You asked whether I had given any further consideration to the methodological aspects of my endeavor. As usual, this is a question I myself have been avoiding for a long time now, but your thoughts on the matter finally spurred me on to address it. As you said, how does one go about recording the chronicles of Resdayn without simply summing up dry facts like Stronach k’Thojj’s Brief History of the Empire? I fully agree that history is so much more than a timeline, and would add that it is also much more than a succession of ‘great’ men (and sometimes women, though I have a distinct feeling there have been more of those than the records would have us believe – but that is another project altogether). If these past years have taught me anything, it is that most of what we call “the course of history” is based on circumstance and dumb luck. The Aedra seem to have forgotten we exist; the Daedra mostly play cruel tricks on individuals (the Oblivion Crisis being a strange and rare exception) and depend for their dirty work on mortal ‘champions’ who more often than not forget about their obligations to the Prince in question anyway.

Speaking of champions, yes, there have been several in both ancient and recent history who appear worthy of such a title: Pelinal Whitestrike, High King Wulfharth, and Tiber Septim are among them (though those might all be different incarnations of the same being, if Aicantar of Shimerene’s yet-unsubstantiated claims are to be believed). In more recent times, the Nerevarine comes to mind immediately – whom, as I believe I have told you before, is always referred to with masculine pronouns in the prophecy and in official records, when there are conflicting accounts to be found among Dunmer refugees regarding the Nerevarine’s gender; a remote ancestor of mine insisted quite strongly that the Nerevarine was a woman. But was the Nerevarine truly Azura’s chosen one, the second coming of Indoril Nerevar, the Rebel to the Sharmat-Who-Would-Be-King? Or was she/he simply in the right place at the right time, an outlander who stumbled into adventure by chance? Ha, sometimes I even wonder whether the Nerevarine might have been multiple people, all of them simultaneously on the same quest! But I digress. “You are wandering again, sweetheart,” I can already hear you mumble softly to the paper as you read this.

I find myself in a curious bind. I wish to disconnect history from the commonplace perception of Tamriel’s past as events that occurred in chronological order, which not only leads to exquisitely uninteresting books but also often causes laymen and academics alike to think of history in quite a linear fashion, as if there are not millions of things happening at any given time, events which all affect each other in complex ways, creating circumstances and environments which significantly restrict the possible actions of persons of varying historical importance. On the other hand, historical biographies such as that of Queen Barenziah and even religious autobiographies like Vivec’s Sermons are far more suitable to make history more tangible to a broader audience and conveying the complexity of certain situations, but by their very nature they only provide a limited point of view on relatively short periods of time (or are riddled with politically motivated lies and metaphor, as is the case with the Sermons). To show history in its true form, then, requires a different means entirely. Coming to this realization required reading hundreds of books, spending many months of my life in archives and archaeological sites, studying eras-old murals and artefacts, and even now I struggle to grasp my subject matter in its entirety. I have written all of it down. I have written far more text in footnotes than any sane editor would ever accept, most of it in-depth elaborations on single events and references to other footnotes elsewhere in the text and other scholarly writings which any given reader should familiarize themselves with before they continue reading my own work. It is too much. It is incomprehensible. I will have a scribe copy some pages for you to look at, but at this point I doubt you will be able to read them without going completely mad, even with your intellect and eruditeness.

So, I ask myself, how would I go about representing, for instance, the geopolitical situation in Resdayn in the First Era, from the Skyrim Conquests (1E 240) to the end of the War of Succession (1E 420)? Never mind the fact that there are dozens of gaps in our knowledge, never mind the archaeological losses we suffered in the Red Year. We have accounts of the Nordic invasions of contemporary Morrowind and High Rock, and there are also works noting that Skyrim’s early imperialism upset the balance between Men and Mer throughout Tamriel, including in Cyrodiil, where the Alessian Empire was founded with the help of the Nords around the same time. We know that the civil war that followed the death of King Borgas in 1E 369 weakened Skyrim’s grip on the north of Tamriel, and provided an opportunity for the Dwemer and Chimer to overcome their ages-old enmity and successfully rise up against their overlords, finally driving the Nords out of Resdayn in 1E 416. The question is, do we understand these events when we spell them out like this?

Make no mistake, my love; these concerns that you so eloquently pointed out to me are not only of an aesthetic nature, but strike at the very heart of the scholarly project at hand. How do we produce knowledge, and how do we spread it in the best possible manner? If I were to write, “the rise of the First Empire of the Nords and the Alessian Empire led to a profound shift in the power relations between Men and Mer, with Men becoming dominant over Mer for the first time in history,” how would I proceed in justifying that claim? The reader requires so much information to understand this claim: the history of humans in Skyrim, the cruel treatment of human slaves in the Ayleid Empire, the territorial squabbles between Chimer and Dwemer during the Late Merethic Era, the creation myths of the Altmer, and so on, and so on. This is really only one episode of many in the long and fascinating history of Resdayn that I would be describing, and it alone would require at least two volumes’ worth of text to do justice to its complexities – and then I have not even begun to address all of the contradictions between various sources regarding dates, names, and places! One might just begin to wonder, as I have, whether the academic volume is still an adequate carrier for disseminating the kind of information I wish to disseminate.

While browsing the tax records of Dunmer immigrant families in Cheydinhal, I came across a fascinating note made by a cleric regarding the inheritance of one of the city’s most famous painters, Rythe Lythandas, who perished together with his wife during the Umbriel Crisis. Shortly after the population had returned to the city, when Lythandas’ possessions were being collected and examined by the Count’s office, the cleric in charge of the case found a funny-looking paintbrush and a journal hidden in the painter’s studio. The journal ascribed divine powers to the brush – even stating that it was an Aedric artefact created during the Arnesian War, something I highly doubt – which made everything its owner imagined come to life. “People do always say that Lythandas’ art seems especially lively,” writes the cleric, “and now I see that this is because it is actually alive.” According to this cleric, his paintings, though most of them were destroyed during the Siege of Cheydinhal and many others are untraceable now, were not just pretty depictions of landscapes; they were magic worlds that one could step into, experience and traverse them as if it were real life! Endless possibility at one’s fingertips!

I am not sure that I believe the cleric’s rather wild claims, but it is certainly an interesting fantasy. Why spend hours and hours browsing through thick tomes, when one could experience history’s complexity and interconnectedness firsthand? Why skim through countless references to different times and places to understand one event, when all of this information can take place right in front of you – no, even better, when you can take part in the event and physically feel history unfold in your hands? Imagine standing next to Saint Alessia as she rouses an army of slaves to fight their Ayleid oppressors, seeing how they lived and bled and died for a cause greater than themselves. Then, imagine suddenly travelling through time and space and witnessing Nerevar and Dumac together at the coronation of Emperor Gorieus, noticing how the Alessians and the Nords scowled at their presence, sensing directly how the Empire’s hatred of the Ayleids was corrupted into the irrational hatred of all Mer of which you and I still feel the consequences today. No longer would history be confined to dusty archive shelves or half-decayed sculptures in the halls of the Arcane University. No longer would we understand our past as a dry sequence of facts, but as a web of interconnected moments where it is impossible to understand what happened at any given time without knowing what happened elsewhere at an earlier (or later!) point in history. Yes, that would be to break the Dragon all by ourselves, to take it apart and see it for what it is!

Ah, but I dream. Still, I cannot help but think about what such a magic painting could do for the academic community, how it could change the way we teach history to our students and bring knowledge about the past to the citizens of Tamriel. Perhaps I should write a letter to the Arch-Mage of the College of Winterhold, to see what she thinks of all this – and of course, I want to know what you think of all this!

Once again I have written far too much! It seems I can never manage to keep these letters short and sweet, like you. I long to see you, my love. Come soon.

Forever yours,

Lady N's picture
Joined: 06/26/2010

This piece was written for our 20th anniversary fan art contest! It is strictly property of its original creator - you may not modify, publish, or redistribute it without explicit permission from the artist.