Recalibrated: Comparing The Stormlight Archive’s Lore with Warcraft’s

Welcome to the first in what will hopefully be a short group of articles: one in which I clean up, rewrite, and bring sanity to articles where I think I did have something interesting to say that I just happened (and by “happened”, I mean “consciously chose to”, because I suck sometimes) to present in the looniest possible terms.

I originally posted this article on August 28th, 2018. Full disclosure: some of my original motivation in writing this, I am ashamed to admit, was destructive. I’m not proud of what I have to tell you, but there’s no point reposting this if I don’t come clean. Due to the subject matter, which truly was unprecedented in my experience at the time and, honestly, still is, worsened by a healthy dose of negativity due to my own discontentment those ten months ago, I was worried that significant portions of The Stormlight Archive‘s lore were lifted from Blizzard’s Warcraft universe.

That’s obviously a dire accusation which, thankfully, I managed to bypass my emotional response to avoid making. Whatever I felt, I knew my feelings were unreliable and that plagiarism isn’t a word writers invoke unless we’re absolutely convinced. So, do I still believe it?

Absolutely not. I do, however, think there are numerous parallels between the two series and that it wouldn’t be unfair to think that Sanderson may have taken significant inspiration from Warcraft, or indeed vice-versa, or indeed both. Even if it was just the first to begin with, Blizzard has doubtless done the same the other way ’round since then, and there’s also the real possibility that Sanderson wrote for Blizzard at some point; I’m not too familiar with his early career, so I can’t say for sure.

Creators often consider it a faux pas to make extensive comparisons between their creations and those of others rather than engaging with the works on their own merits. I get this. So, if you feel I’ve crossed the line, then what can I say but “turnabout is fair play?” I literally cannot stop you from combing through my own work and finding all the ways it’s similar to other people’s work. Let me know whenever you find something especially goofy.

That said, let me just ruin the best one for you by saying that Inquisitor-Adept Morkui Bano resulted directly from me asking myself the question, “What if a 40k Inquisitor was not a horrible racist and also was Ornstein from From Software’s Dark Souls?” Winged spear? Lightning? Plunging attacks? All boxes checked, maximum Legal Distinctness applied. You all have your Letters of Marque; you may read the article proper while you arm some stout lads for a high-seas onslaught against my oceans of lore.

I’m not sorry for that. You folks should know by now I love overworked analogies.

Anyway, I can say with iron conviction that there are some fun similarities in worldbuilding between the Warcraft universe and The Cosmere, and that this article should serve well as a meditation on the way that writers exchange, include, and modify common ideas between bodies of lore. Or, er, a trivia hunt; I think perhaps most of you will like the trivia hunt a bit better. This concludes the entirely new content; from here on in, it’s mainly–I’m still not sorry–RECALIBRATED.

My own work has its share of inspirations. That ideas have their own power is one I first saw in Warhammer 40k’s Orks because it just seemed too cool to limit to a single species. Why shouldn’t everybody‘s red ones go faster? Eh? Answer me that, Games Workshop! (Please don’t sue me, I’m not making Youtube animations or anything. But also this concept goes back at least as far as Old Kingdom Egyptian priests singing the world and the gods themselves into existence, so you don’t own it any more than I do.)

During the research for this very post, I found out that Blizzard’s lore already uses the term “nexus” to refer to a strong center of magic. After reflection, I think I first picked this one up from Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar books when I was in high school. Fortunately, I don’t use the concept of ley-lines, so it could be worse than it is. A “nexus” is also an accepted term for “super-important center of a thing”, so it’s not like any of us are really using this one originally. Blizzard’s nexuses (shouldn’t that be nexes? Oh, whatever)  seem like they might cause all kinds of physical aberrations, which mine don’t. They have some other effects, but not that.

Mine warp causality, which… Medivh also makes reference to as a feature of Warcraft magic. Y’know, Bliz, if you’re going to have all these (rather excellent!) ideas in your games, maybe you ought to use them more? Just a smidge? Because honestly, if I knew your writers were capable of this much inventiveness, I’d have been a lot more interested in WoW. Yes, I know Blizzard is wildly successful and lore-hungry writers are a niche. I am being cutesy, leave me be.

Ultimately, readers, you can blame my buddies in a tabletop gaming Discord for this mind-yowling topic: at the time of its original writing, they kept posting stuff about the latest WoW developments so I had Warcraft on the brain.

And, quite suddenly, it occurred to me while mulling over that content: “The Parshendi remind me a lot of the Horde.” Thus inspired, I decided to go comb through Blizzard’s lore on the off-chance there were more of these parallels. I shortly found this was sort of like reading the Silmarillion if it was spread out entirely over multiple wikis and Christopher Tolkien decided to retcon at random.

Because of this, please take any outdated information in stride: I never got into WoW and I was too bad at strategy games as a tiny child to finish Warcraft 3, so my knowledge of Warcraft lore is based mostly on wiki-skimming for this exact article. As you would at least hope given my (AHEM)… overwrought initial response to these discoveries, the similarities between many aspects of Warcraft lore and that of The Stormlight Archive can be rather stark. In places, I was able to draw direct lines between portions of Warcraft 1’s timeline and that of The Stormlight Archive.

I also found that it was difficult to open any article on Warcraft–even ones that had nothing to do with the connections I’d already discovered–without finding something in or around Azeroth that reminded me of something in The Cosmere. (Or, Warcraft being way older, vice versa.) It made for a hell of a research session and probably ought to have been conducted by someone more level-headed than myself, but here we are.

To invoke that lovably tired trope, let’s just begin at the beginning. If you folks are interested in playing around with this further, I’ll bold and italicize the links for everything where available. I’d hope it goes without saying that if there’s anything about either universe you’d rather learn by directly experiencing it, this is your last chance to back out!

So: the earliest (internal timeline, not time of writing) Warcraft lore concerns the creation of the universe itself because… how could it not? It’s not clear within the universe if this was a spontaneous event a la The Big Bang, or whether some omnipotent deity or force created everything. If the latter option, we’re looking at something much like The Cosmere’s Adonalsium, though with less debatably-justified shanking and power-theft. If the identity of said Warcraft creator-force was clear somewhere, then I simply wasn’t able to find that somewhere.

Sometime after the Warcraft universe’s creation, the Titans arose, and started enforcing their ideas about order throughout the Warcraft universe. Each of them focused on a particular aspect of creation, and here we get our first solid parallel: the Shards of Adonalsium and the quasi-deities they create, who also embodied certain things and oversaw worlds accordingly. The main difference here seems to be that Warcraft’s Titans focused more on conventional Pantheonic roles a la Greek Mythology (which they’re pretty clearly drawn from), where the Shards of Adonalsium are all affiliated with certain characteristics of the aforementioned god.

Still, as far as shaping worlds and peoples according to their whims and spheres of influence, there are notable parallels; this one’s not too major, being a common feature of gods and godlike entities in most every mythology anyway.

There’s a concept of World-souls in Warcraft from which Titans eventually birth, even down to Azeroth having a physical representative to speak through, but the shard-worlds in The Cosmere don’t seem to work the same way even if they are suggested to have souls at one point. Eventually, the titan Sargeras betrayed the others. He destroyed (though couldn’t obliterate the souls of) the Titan Pantheon. Odium/Rayse in the Cosmere did something similar to many of the other Shardholders, though for different reasons; Sargeras wants to purge the universe of life so the Void Lords can’t corrupt it, Odium just doesn’t want competition. Or at any rate, that’s the impression I’ve got of Odium thus far.

So, going forward: Sargeras creates the Burning Legion to carry out his universe-wide Exterminatus (hey, parallels, remember? Couldn’t help myself.) While it’s not clear yet, it seems Odium may have coopted humans to serve him as Voidbringers. Presumably, this is leading to his ultimate purpose of controlling all things or something to this effect. It’s hard to rule out the possibility that Odium wants to control everything so he can have everything destroy itself, though, since his motivations haven’t been made clear thus far. Alternatively, maybe he just wants everyone to suffer; that would be well in line with his Shard’s nature.

I have to say I wouldn’t be surprised if either of the above happen; whatever nuance one might find among The Stormlight Archive‘s other characters, so far Odium is honestly a fairly generic mega-evil god. I mean, come on, folks, “Rayse?” His name is Raze, is what I am saying. He razes civilizations to the ground. Is that fun? Yes, as I’ll cover later, but it’s very fantasy villain standard; nothing wrong with that, just don’t ask me to pretend it’s something other than standard. Now, on the note of Odium’s forces, the Thunderclasts misidentified as the Voidbringers early in The Stormlight Archive are rather similar in concept, if not exact shapes, to the Burning Legion’s Infernals.

Back in the Warcraft universe, Sargeras rampages cheerfully through the cosmos, blasting entire worlds into oblivion and slaughtering everything dumb enough to get into his way. Yippee! Meanwhile in the Cosmere, Odium seems to have been less concerned with killing everybody than just killing other Shardholders. Of course, considering the established rules about Shards influencing their Holders, the logical end point for him could be a mindless state of wanton destruction until there’s nothing left to hate. Or, again, all the universe suffering constantly to please said hatred.

Back to Warcraft: Sargeras’ forces arrive on Azeroth, and he tricks the elven Queen Azhara into letting his armies invade. Y’know. Demon stuff. To make a long story short, the invasion fails and the Burning Legion are thrown back. Over the course of millennia in world history, Sargeras tries and fails to overtake Azeroth again, and again, and again, all the way up to the events of the Warcraft strategy games. In the same vein, Odium’s forces are known to have tried and failed to conquer Roshar again, and again, and again. In the end, Sargeras ends up trapped outside Azeroth’s physical plane, and Odium is put in a similar state of inability to act directly on Roshar. Good times for all!

There are a few debatable parallels laced throughout: Warcraft’s Council/Order of Tirisfal as compared with Roshar’s Knights Radiant, Sargeras’ use of an Avatar and the Guardian of Tirisfal who stood one-on-one against this Avatar as compared with Honor/the Almighty’s suggestion of luring Odium into a similar duel, the abandoned citadel of Karazhan as compared against the abandoned citadel of Urithiru, and finally the ridiculous leap in logic that got us here in the first place. Let’s explore that and see if it’s still ridiculous after I explain my reasoning, shall we?

Leading into Warcraft 1, the Orc Warlock Gul’dan manipulates the orcs of the Horde into drinking the blood of pit demons. This turns them into maddened slaves of the Burning Legion, but also gives them tremendous boosts to strength, speed, resilience, stamina and size. With enough exposure, it can cause bone growth as well as even further increases in mass. This entire chain of events, in which the previously semi-honorable if still admittedly violent orcs become The Horde, may sound a little familiar to you.

In the Stormlight Archive, as many of you are probably aware, Venli, a Nimbleform scholar of the Parshendi, betrays her people to their ancestors. The Voidspren which infest them give them far more physically powerful forms, larger and with much more developed carapaces, but also bind them to Odium’s will. Eventually, of course, many of them are used as nothing more than vessels for their returning ancestors.

While Venli isn’t really a shaman as such, her role within Parshendi culture isn’t entirely dissimilar from that of the orc shamans, pre-Horde. Much as orc shamans commune with elementals and other spirits in the Warcraft universe, the Parshendi’s leaders commune with Spren. Combined with the fact that the Parshendi at this point in the story have retreated to the Shattered Plains, an arid, broken region not entirely dissimilar from the state of Draenor when the Horde leaves it to invade Azeroth, this was enough to get my wheels turning.

A quick wrap-up of some other small points: the idea of Voidspren and the unique form of Stormlight they deliver–was it just Voidlight? I forget–both have strong parallels in Warcraft via The Void. In The Stormlight Archive, this is one of the names given to Odium himself. As with Warcraft’s Void, the powers he grants his subjects thus far are often best suited to primal urges and survival logic rather than what we conventionally consider “higher” emotions.

Aside/a personal memo to other fantasy writers: STOP NAMING SOMETHING THE VOID WHEN IT’S THE EXACT OPPOSITE OF NOTHING! Sorry, sorry, longstanding pet peeve. You can put things in your Void if you really have to, I guess. It’s your universe. Anyway, Warcraft’s Void is the source of, among other things, shadow magic, which is diametrically opposed to light magic, just as in The Stormlight Archive there’s the repeated juxtaposition between light (albeit stormlight) and Void.

Stormlight and Warcraft’s Light magic also have many similar functions such as physical empowerment, healing, levitating oneself and objects, you get the idea. I’m a little unclear as to whether Stormlight bolsters positive emotions just as Warcraft’s Light does, but it seems as though this might be the case?

It doesn’t help that–again, without suggesting this is a bad thing–Sanderson’s hard magic systems do tend to be very similar to the way video games restrict a few specific powers to a given character class even when the source of those powers is the same. I understand the utility of this approach for writing purposes in that it helps narrow down what a character can and can’t do, don’t misunderstand me.

It’s also worth noting that the Warcraft orcs’ word for Draenor, Rakshar, is just two letters away from being Roshar, with both worlds having some similar “this place might’ve been pleasant once but it sure isn’t now” vibes. Looked at the other way ’round, of course, the Shattered Plains are quite similar to Durotar, even down to the dangerous wildlife, canyons and crags. Eshonai was, unfortunately, quite a bit less successful than Thrall was–at least up to the present–but you can still see some similarities both in their characters and their initial arcs.

A much looser one: the Horde employs Garona to assassinate King Llane after she’s gained his trust. There are some conceptual similarities here with the relationship between Eshonai and humans at the very start of The Stormlight Archive prior to the death of Gavilar Kholin, but in The Stormlight Archive Eshonai isn’t directly involved in Gavilar’s death–it’s Szeth who does this.

To tie off the timeline stuff in relatively short order, because this ruthless sequentiality is wearing on me and has to be wearing on you: over the course of the orc’s invasion of Azeroth, they overtake Stormwind, capital of the human kingdom of the same name. This isn’t so different from the fall of Kholinar in The Stormlight Archive. A number of Alliance heroes flee from Stormwind, somewhat similar to Shallan, Kaladin, and Adolin’s flight from Kholinar.

Phew, okay, enough with the timeline! Let’s just go through prominent worldbuilding points. Warcraft’s Twisting Nether is an astral dimension formed by the interaction of the twin cosmic forces of Light and Void, and populated in no small part by demons. It also changes completely based on the mind experiencing it, another of those awesome Blizzard ideas that gets minimal play. Shadesmar, by contrast, has a static form which can be modified briefly by Surgebinders with the appropriate gifts, as Shallan does. Voidspren also appear there and are currently the closest thing to demons in The Cosmere (I’d actually argue they’re the same in function, just different in name). Otherwise, both realms connect the myriad physical realms of their respective universes.

As with the spirit realms, there are strong parallels in the handling of spirits between Warcraft and The Cosmere. Warcraft’s elementals have a much smaller range of associations than The Cosmere’s Spren, but there are a few similarities. Higher elementals in Warcraft, as with more developed Spren in Shadesmar, have their own societies and hierarchies, and have been known to war with each other at various times.

Bonus paragraphs added entirely during these revisions! This is by far the loosest parallel, but naming conventions in The Stormlight Archive often lean into the same lovably-campy territory as Warcraft, often becoming so literal it’s almost hilarious (or just is hilarious, AHEM: “Rayse”). Kaladin’s name might actually be the worst other than the aforementioned pun, as it is literally just the word “paladin” but with a K instead of a P. I may do a separate article on this sometime, but in general you see a lot of vowel-heavy names with a sort of “Tolkien lite” feel in both.

Just to harp on the more obvious of these: “Shadesmar” is just “shade” (a spirit) and the Latin “mare,” or sea, without the “e”. It’s the spirit-sea. It still sounds kind of cool, don’t get me wrong, but c’mon, guys, it’s a more than a little funny how literal that is. I want to be clear I’m not demeaning this style of naming. Again, it’s good fun when it’s handled well, which is probably why both universes employ it. I do feel at times that fantasy works in general lean into this a bit too much–why not use some Devil May Cry naming conventions?–but it’s a genre staple.

Stormlight is just arcane light/power delivered by storms. It’s hard to get more direct than that! Shardblades and Shardplate felt like interesting breaks from this except that we now know all Spren started in some way as expressions of Adonalsium’s Shards, and Shardblades are just a form taken by bonded Spren, so these actually turned out to be literal after all. Character names have very similar feels between both universes, subsisting on the same variety of not-quite-English.

Aside: In The Stormlight Archive there’s a little lore about quasi-symmetrical names. This is one way to explain the vowel-heavy, Sindarin-inspired names so common in fantasy. It’s never become any sort of salient point, however, and the end result is still that all the names sound quite fantasy-standard. Which is fine! I want to be perfectly clear on that. This article is not about finding fault. It’s just comparing two universes for comparison’s sake alone.

You might be thinking of Shallan as something of an exception here, but Shallan herself has a heavily Celtic-sounding name. Free-spirited redhead whose past and future both turn out to be more complicated than expected? Wasn’t there a Disney movie about that?

Some other fun name examples: Jasnah and Jaina (both highborn scholars of the arcane), Adolin and Anduin (the latter is literally the name of a river in Middle Earth), who again have quasi-similar princeling roles. I have the impression Anduin is actually the sort of perfect-besides-being-willful goodboi Adolin initially appeared to be, but I’m not too familiar so perhaps I’m mistaken.

On a broader level there’s heavy tonal similarity between universes: both mix dark material and goofy material in rapid succession (which, I admit, I find equally jarring in both franchises), both have these sort of implied churches around concepts that aren’t always well understood by their own worshipers, both are fond of magi-tech with moderate-to-heavy steampunk overtones.

So, what should you take from any of this? Well, if nothing else, that there are so many ideas in play in many fantasy universes that something you write will always resemble what someone else writes. That makes it doubly important both to seek the least-addressed ideas, and to develop them when you do find them–if, that is, you want your worldbuilding to break new ground. But if what you really want is a rollick through the old, well, there’s nothing whatsoever wrong with that!

Just be passionate and build a universe that enthralls you. As I said, my own work has its share of commonalities, and if you believe I’ve gone too far, I repeat my invitation to hoist me by my own petard–besides, then I can retcon the worst offenders in my lore and have a better chance of writing something unique!

(If you found this post enriching or simply enjoyed it, then please leave a like, share it with your friends wherever you may go online, and consider supporting me on Patreon!)

One thought on “Recalibrated: Comparing The Stormlight Archive’s Lore with Warcraft’s

  1. Your writing style is taking on a fair bit of whimsey. We all borrow ideas, however unintentional. For NH, I took several nods to Lands of Lore, and PFN takes some inspiration from, of all things, Soldier of Fortune.

    Liked by 1 person

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