Undoubtedly many part-time geeks will exclaim “Warhammer!” when their less geek-savvy friends and family ask about ‘The WarCraft.’ Indeed, the Empire and the Greenskins are as enduring a table top trope as are our Mighty Gods and cunning D&D players but perhaps even that wouldn’t be enough for hesitant grandparents who wish to treat their grandchildren to an afternoon at the movies. Unlike many reviewers who did not bother to do their research and likened the world of Azeroth to the likes of Middle-Earth and Westeros and curiously enough the latter was not even finished when the original “Orcs & Humans” was released Azeroth goes further back to the very beginning of their legend.
Certainly, Chris Metzen and Co borrowed many elements from Tolkien and Lovecraft but long before there was a Hobbit in the ground and dubiously devious old gods lurking between the pages in Weird Fiction there were the myths that inspired both of these literary giants. This is a story of origins, an exploration set out to prove that our sense of entertainment is still firmly rooted in us where every beginning borrows from the old men’s tales. The tall tales passed around mess halls and the lies we spin around the campfire and the myths we revel in when times are dire or happy depending on your daily disposition. A weakness which artists like George Lucas and J.K Rowling have successfully exploited.
Stormwind and the Humans
Ah, the Humans. One of the many instantly recognisable factions of the WarCraft universe the human kingdoms of Azeroth seem fit to be part of our own history if not for their penchant for distrusting weird wizards and a taste for the flamboyant wear. Well, maybe not so much. One of the most genius moves on behalf of the Blizzard creative team has been to reverse the course of history for creative licensing. Take something familiar and give it its own spin. Reversing time beginning with the early Renaissance while slowly inching down the path to the Dark Ages while keeping it coherent is no mere feat but from the outset, it is the opposite. Often mistakenly purported by people in the know to be related to Medieval Christendom rather than The Holy Roman Empire Azeroth has more in common with the early Renaissance than any of the major crusades. For it is a place where full plates of armour could co-exist with gunpowder when cats were the enemy and Charlemagne’s noble paladins had long morphed into various iterations over the following centuries that inspired the knight orders of Europe and obscure WarCraft-ian lore. A time when religion and superstition readily mixed which would explain what Swiss kobolds are doing in the movie.
From the Hunnic Horde to the Golden Horde, to the Tartars the origins of the Warcraft’s Horde have been undoubtedly muddled since the original 1994 release of “Orcs & Humans” but the inspirations seems rather fixed. The fear that Attila and his ilk struck deep into the heart of Roman Europe with their unwavering will for conquest was perhaps passed down centuries later through the blood of their descendants into envisioning it as an unstoppable force that descended on the unsuspecting as if from nowhere. Indeed, as if crossing through a Dark Portal from the heart of the abyss itself. From Huns, to Mongols, to ancient Turks, the Draenor Orcs have plundered their fair share of civilizations. This is no more evident than the adoption of Shamans into the lore of WarCraft. a source of inspiration which owes its origins to the steppes of ancient Mongolia paving a way for a Horde of dual character, that is Orc in appearance but undoubtedly human in origin. A society in which a way of life can be both deeply spiritual and yet turbulent and chaotic as the way of the warrior undoubtedly is.
Wizards/ Guardians and all in between
The Early Renaissance gave rise not only to science and a renewed interest in the arts but also in the occult, the alchemical and the magical. Though not quite Knights-errant the tales of philosopher-kings and disturbed scientists doubling into the obscure range from John Dee to Isaac Newton to Pope John XXII. Medivh the bearded fellow who calls himself guardian is kind of a pope too. A very, very interesting one at that.
Do God-like beings need any explanation at this point? WarCraft’s deities share many of the characteristics of the Greko-Roman Pantheon but truly they are a hybrid of Norse and ancient Mesopotamian Gods that uses the Greek ideal as a template. You needn’t watch far before you spot the likes of Zeus and Aries, Baal and Freja all wrapped into one cool package for you.
The monumental beings bestowed with the some of the power of their creators, charged with protecting the world from evil go a step further than their masters and almost “borrow” not just the attributes but also the names of their Norse counterparts ranging from Odin, to Thorim, Freya and Loken. A true multicultural realm. No really. There is a guy named Ra.
Azeroth = Gaia
Just why is the world of Azeroth important? Was it a random choice made by Gul’dan or is there something “precious” tucked away for us to uncover over multiple instalments. Many of our most illustrious ancestors firmly believed that the world we live in was special giving rise to many to speculate that our world has a soul . The WarCraft universe takes that a step further, though. You might want to check out WarCraft Chronicles for the really juicy titbits but rest assured the more spiritually or intellectual of you would have a blast with the soul within a soul corporeal form concept of existence.
The Burning Legion
An unstoppable, wickedly cunning demon army of endless numbers led by a fallen Titan?, No it was not the Bible or the Dead Sea scrolls but rather give props to Dante and Milton who really broke it down for these guys into nice, easily digestible parts. If the concept of benevolent evil does not tickle your fancy then one thing will. In this world, Thanos ain’t nothing on Sargeras and co.
The Astral Plane and the Dark Portal
The existence of the Aether and a multi-dimensional cosmos has been around perhaps even longer than the ancient Egyptians, with some sources citing it as an intermediate between Earth and Heaven, dreams and Plato’s forms and everything in between. It may not appeal to those who prefer the hard-core sciences to the mantra of otherworldliness but it its appealing enough to warrant a movie that would bring down the big boyz of da Horde.
Through the various tidbits the WarCraft movie offers we are sure to be awarded a glimpse of its original spin of one of the most enduring fantasy tropes. The Elves as some sources suggest stem from winged fairies, who in turn seem related to Angels which by the way in its the original Greek translates as Messenger. Not exactly the noblest of creatures for we keep praying for them not to get killed off by some nameless lord but in D&D land they sure are special.
The original Dwarf was neither Gimli nor Dopey nor even Oakenshield or any other Humpty Dumpty grudge bearer but as it turns out nothing more than a fuzzy image Viking parents used to describe to their children of the strange race of ‘men’ whose dwelling is in the deep caverns of the Earth. Perhaps they more than anyone are responsible for the look and feel of Stormwind. Either that or it was Duncan Jones and his crew.