When I roleplay I often use some of the better characters I’ve come across in my time playing video games as templates. These are characters I found to be unusually well-textured, motivated, in-depth and interesting and could provide the basis for characters like them in various private RPs I’ve involved myself in. Lately my thoughts turned to someone I remembered very fondly from Dragon Age. Queen Anora Theirin.
Queen Anora is the consummate politician—a woman who is not only aware of the great game of political chess that spreads before her in the palace but who is an unmatched grandmaster. Cunning is a word for her, to be sure; she knows what she is doing and does not hesitate to sacrifice pawns if need be. What vexes the player is what her endgame is. By the time you get to truly know Queen Anora, you are nearing the end of Dragon Age and hurriedly deciding who you wish to support as supreme ruler of Ferelden. Anora is unequivocal and enthusiastic: she believes without a shadow of doubt that she is the best person for the job.
But what does she want to do with that power? (Spoilers Follow: Sorry, it’s just one of those articles!)
The Maven of Realpolitik
For my own part, from my first playthrough onwards I never stopped adoring Anora. She is not just competent but she is brilliant and skilled. She already has proven herself: she was the real power behind the throne while her late-husband pretended to be some dashing knight. While he sought dragons to slay (who might as well have been windmills) she actually undertook the adult work of administering the country and ensuring it ran as smoothly as possible.
I think more than a few married hetero women can empathise with this particular state of affairs.
She is a hard woman, to be quite sure. But her stoic seriousness and determination is hardly something I’d rate as a weakness. It was precisely a lack of seriousness and maturity that made her husband something less than an inspiring king.
In the endings where I ensured she was made ruler of Ferelden (which was all but one where I wanted to play out a different ending) she never lead the nation astray. Her competence and calculating talents lead the nation into a golden age, in fact, and allowed her to become not only a skilled ruler but a beloved one. What was her motivation? Why did she want power? Because she wanted the ruling of Ferelden to be done right. I can hardly fault her for this, given the competition. Alistair is cuddly and lovable and he does, in some endings, come into his own as a king. But from the perspective of my character who cannot see into the future, Anora comes across as a much safer pair of hands who has the benefit of actually wanting to do the job.
So, Anora is a skilled chess player of a political dark horse, a serious woman who strategises in a cunning, sometimes emotionless way to do what she feels is right. There is a shadow around her, but she is far from being evil. So what do other Dragon Age players think of this forthright woman who says what she means and has the audacity to tout her competence from the highest hilltops? Well…
Lying, conniving, treacherous bitch, it’s true!
I hate her soooo much
I kept hoping for a way to kill her after she betrayed me to Ser Cauthrien
I wanted kill her too.
me too and even she betrayed her father because she want to be a queen:/ I rly hate her
I wish there was a slap Anora mod. Just so I could save before it and do it over and over again XD
*is definately using*
Double crossing bitch!!!! DIE!!!
You bitch! Seriously hate her, she couldn’t be more grabby and “I wantz teh crown”
I wish I could smack that stupid hair right off her.
When she betrayed me I was like “GIVE ME ONE GOOD REASON NOT TO TEAR YOUR HAIR OFF YOUR HEAD BEOTCH!”
(Any spelling errors are in the original)
Well… erm. I see. Interesting.
A Queen, Not a Doormat
All of the above quotes are from one thread on DeviantArt. I came to realise very quickly that Anora was actually rather hated by many in the fan community. In the end I wasn’t surprised. Falling Awkwardly’s Kateri, one of the most intellectual and thoughtful games analysts I’ve read and a Border House guest writer, said it best:
A few words about Anora. Dear Anora. Many players have had words to say about Anora. “Bitch” is one. “Scheming bitch” are others, also “scheming, backstabbing, manipulative, selfish, power-hungry bitch”. Arl Eamon even calls her “…spirited”, in tones that make it very clear what he actually means. “Spirited” belongs in that category of Victorian-novel style words, along with “feisty”, and “lively” that means (to paraphrase Rebecca West) “woman who differentiates herself from a doormat”, which is to say, “bitch”. As far as I can see, the whole “bitch” thing is because Anora has the temerity to think she’d make a better ruler than Alistair, and says so.
I could not have said it better myself.
Several of the commentors above reference a betrayal that Anora perpetrates on your character. This is a reference to a scene where your character is caught by Teyrn Loghain’s guards after you try to rescue Queen Anora from captivity on an estate. Anora turns you in and claims you kidnapped her.
There are several things to be said about this:
- She apologises for this later and is clearly not proud of having had to do it.
- She made a split second decision in the midst of a political climate where her father, abusing his power, would easily have hurt her if he knew she was in league with your character—the much sought after Grey Warden. She was forced to make a painful choice by her father’s despotic behaviour and the fact that he might try to hurt her, as was evidenced by the fact that he sanctioned her kidnapping by a subordinate in the first place.
- This kind of decisiveness is oft cited as a needed political skill. Had it been demonstrated in a man he would doubtless have been praised for it.
There is also something else to be said about the question of “betrayal” here. Let’s reference another commentor on the subject and plumb the depths of their limitless wisdom:
Yeah she could betray her own father because she want be qeen:/
I hate her but I respects Loghain because he rly fought with Orlais and he tried protected king Maric
What Teyrn Loghain ‘rly’ did was put the entire country in danger so he could off King Cailan at the Battle of Ostagar, condemning legions of soldiers and mages to their deaths and precipitating a crisis that pushed his country to the brink of civil war in the midst of a once in a lifetime epic invasion. “Treason” is almost the least of Loghain’s crimes here. Throughout the game you are also treated to the quasi-tyranny with which Loghain administers the country and to the fundamental fact that while Loghain was a good general, he is a terrible diplomat who is about as graceful and elegant as a sledgehammer.
His daughter, on the other hand, knows more than a thing or two about running a country and she is decidedly not a tyrant, as her endings clearly demonstrate.
Anora made a very difficult decision in turning on her father’s rule, and she did so for reasons that are unshakably just: Loghain was abusing his power. In the endings where your player or Alistair kills Loghain, she is clearly angered and distraught at having had to do so. She never wanted to betray her father to his death the way that he betrayed King Cailan to a rather grisly fate.
But because Teyrn Loghain is a bloke, he’s still respectable. Because Anora is a woman who does not denigrate herself, she is a lying, traitorous, manipulative bitch.
There should be no doubt, however, that Anora is a leader. If you support her elevation to full leadership of the country you are treated to cutscenes of her effecting that leadership. She comes across less as power-mad than eager to take the reins because she knows what needs to be done and how best to do it. As she rallies the soldiers for a great battle against the Darkspawn in Denerim, one sees her fulfilling the true aims of leadership in a time of crisis.
A brief note should also be spared here. Intrepid searching and reading in the game world can lead the player to rumours that Queen Anora is barren and was unable to bear her husband an heir. A DLC pack also reveals that King Cailan was planning to set her aside for a woman who could bear him a child.
The implications of this are clear: she must also struggle against people who view her less as a leader and more as a womb, including her erstwhile husband. With her talents she believes her first duty to her kingdom is to lead it with maturity and competence, not to make babies for it. That she did not resign herself to being a broodmare for the kingdom may just be another reason why so many gamers seem to despise her.
Anora, it must be said, embodies several nightmares for particular kinds of men (at least, the particular kinds who predominate in gaming communities, whose fears I’ve discussed elsewhere). She is a woman who does not wish to bear children, she is a woman who knows what she wants and knows how to get it, she is a woman who is cable of manipulation and skilful manoeuvring, and thus as a result is a woman who does not prostrate herself before the wills of others, least of all men. She is neither pliable nor biddable, and she is also not in the game as a sex object. Unable to fulfil the masculinist fantasy of a bobbleheaded fawning yes-woman and sex toy, she immediately becomes the target of their rage, and the rage of women eager to impress men and prove to them that they aren’t “like that.”
The Audacity of Pride
I look up to characters like Anora, with her unapologetic tooting of her own horn, because even I still struggle not to self-deprecate. For all I’ve accomplished, I downplay it routinely, undersell myself, speak in qualifiers and half measures. I’ve gotten better at catching myself and being bolder, but it still plagues me. I make myself smaller and less threatening because I intrinsically know strong women rapidly become targets.
It’s not hard to see this in video games. Bastila Shan of Knights of the Old Republic, another forthright woman who speaks her mind and has profound confidence in her abilities, is routinely called a bitch. When men see a woman who is not on her knees begging for his undying love, she rapidly becomes a threat, and it does not take a genius to figure out why that is. I love Anora precisely because she humbles herself to no man. She knows she is brilliant and is unafraid to say so: I won’t make any bones about saying I want to be like that.
Anora is cunning and manipulative but she is no moreso than the men trying to manoeuvre Alistair onto the throne, no moreso than her father who sought to end the reign of a deeply incompetent king. One of these people is not like the other, and of course Anora is the odd man out because she isn’t a man. She does have flaws, yes, there is no question about this. Were she a real person and were I in a political debate with her, I’d have a thing or two to say to her. But her flaws are what make her human. I suspect that another thing that annoys some of her critics of all genders is that she is not a fairy tale queen– neither a perfect villainess nor an alabaster angel. She is a human being. Would I read a novel about Anora struggling with her flaws? Definitely. She is a compelling and thought-provoking character who exists on her own merits.
Queen Anora is, to me, an inspiring figure. She was born a commoner, after all, and rose in society to become (in some possible endings to the game) ruler of Ferelden, and not just any queen but one who could use her great talents to usher in a golden age for the beleaguered country. Her lack of royal blood is used against her by some in the game, and is listed by more than a few as a reason she shouldn’t assume the throne. It’s all the more reason I loved her. In one fell swoop she deals a blow to the concept of a royal line and its inherent classism and proves that this hardworking woman, born a commoner, could not only lead but do so with aplomb.
She is a woman who, from her own father to her royal husband, has been in the shadow of men who granted her boons in the midst of patriarchy.
It was my pleasure to help her seize the opportunity to rule in her own name.