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Full Version: Classism in Elderling society? (spoilers RotE books incl Blood of Dragons)
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I was reading through Dragon Haven and came across many references to humans in the past who would attempt to claim a dragon's attention in order to change into Elderlings. I begin to wonder whether Elderling-Dragon society was really as idyllic as it's made out to be.

It is known that Elderlings were in the "top drawer" of human society, they occupied the busy centers of of large cities where dragons were frequent visitors, and wealthy and powerful families would strive for the attention of dragons in order to change their next generation into Elderlings. Wouldn't the ordinary humans have feelings of resentment and bitterness towards those who could afford to pay for more opportunities to befriend a dragon?

Dragon parts are also potent in magical properties. I cannot believe that there did not exist any opportunistic humans who would do anything to procure parts to enhance themselves, artificially transform themselves into Elderlings, or cure disease and stave off death like what Greft tried to do.

How about those who are affected by being in close contact with dragons, but never transform completely or correctly into Elderlings? Instead, those like the Rain Wilders inherit shorter lifespans and health complications. I don't suppose they would feel very grateful towards dragons, especially those who worked their entire lives taking care of dragon hatching grounds. Neither would the dragons who are born Abominations and are shunned and abandoned because of the actions of their predecessor.

I have my suspicions about the Cataclysm being simply a natural disaster. There is a possibility that it was brought about because of social turmoil. Maybe a rebellion by humans against dragons? Dragon glamour may have been a mitigator in keeping humans from turning against them, but not everyone falls under its spell. Though they share a bond, Elderlings and dragons do not necessarily need to be emotionally close to each other. Thymara, for instance, doesn't fawn over her dragon like the others do and instead learns to resist Sintara's attempts to manipulate her.

Every instance where a character became witness to memories of Elderling society has only seen a thriving, elegant, happy one. If this civilization was that perfect, then why did it fall so suddenly and so completely?
Why did it fall so completely? I suspect that the Elderlings may have been largely dependent on the dragons for their magic. The Fool theorises in Fool's Fate that the Skill may have grown out of the link between Elderlings and dragons, if I remember correctly. And maybe that disaster, which I see no reason to doubt was in fact natural, was simply that devastating. According to Tintaglia in Ship of Destiny, the whole geography had changed. Unless something really catastrophic happens, that would take millions of years, and I don't think the Elderlings lived that long ago.

EDIT: Why do I only ever catch spelling mistakes after making the post? Grrrr.
Murphy's law, Albertosaurus. Murphy's law.

A catastrophe big enough to destabilize an entire continent will shatter any civilization. It is quite possible that one part of the catastrophe was a super-volcanic eruption, and the amount of ash thrown into the sky was enough to cripple dragonkind, resulting in their deaths.
Super-volcanic eruption - I like that one. I do believe erupting vulcanoes were mentioned in the text.
a single, regular volcanic eruption is not enough to cause mass extinction. eruption from a supervolcano on the other hand, that is enough...
A massive volcanic eruption may have been a big part of it, but I doubt it was anything but a symptom. For one thing, while the Elderling cities in the Rain Wilds have been buried, others have not. Dragons could also have flown away from the disaster-struck areas and lived somewhere else. Yet humans remained but dragons and Elderlings did not.

AR put up a very good question as to why there was never a return of the Elderlings. I don't know if the humans ever missed Elderling civilization because it doesn't seem like there were any attempts to "revive" it. Western countries revisited classical teachings for centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire and many leaders launched campaigns to revive the glory and grandeur of the Romans. So why haven't the humans in the RotE? It's almost as if Elderling history were intentionally being smothered to become the stuff of myths and legends rather than an ancient civilization that actually existed at one point.
An eruption of super-volcanic size will hurl enough ash up into the air to clog up very large regions. Dragons generally lived in one main region, so while it was not enough to cover entire atmosphere in a layer of life-killing ash, it was enough to slay essentially all dragon-kind. There is one dragon that escaped, but no indications of any others. (that excludes the cocoons)

Such catastrophe will not give anyone time to run (or in this case, fly) away. When dragon-kind essentially became extinct, Elderkind also expired. Elderlings are, after all reliant upon dragon-kind to exist.
It is however not unlikely that elderlings were a bit aloof when compared to regular humans. For a good part they did not use scrolls, but memory stone. Due to that, a lot of their knowledge became inaccessible upon their disappearing. combine that with the fact that people will abandon higher learnings in the face of disaster, and you have ample reason for Elderlings to quickly pass from common knowledge. in the time period around the Elderling demise only a very small minority had knowledge of the reading arts, and most history was passed down orally. within some generations (5-6) any oral stories of Elderlings would have become extremely distorted, eventually turning into fairy tales for all except those few in the nobility that can read the few historical texts written down.
Since the Elderlings lived apart from the majority of humans, and quite far away from places like the six duchies, none even thought to investigate their homelands after such disaster. They had no need to contact them, and the common folk had not the means. Thus what few Elderlings that may have survived passed away while humans elsewhere were oblivious.

If you have no elaborate knowledge, then you simply cannot recreate something fully. Combine that with the fact that you need dragons to create Elderlings, and you have ample evidence why their society could not simply be rebuilt by anyone.

The fact that some cities survived while others did not, can be explained by their location. The coastal elderling cities were sunk in the seas, the midland cities became the rain wilds, and the mountain cities were too far up to sink fully. They may easily have been located much higher up, but there is no way to prove that. The entire continental plate that contains the rain wilds most likely sunk far down, or perhaps even was impacted from behind by another plate, lifting its rear up and sinking its front. that would explain how things shifted. such tectonic impact would also explain the quakes.
(Jun-09-2011, 10:21 AM (UTC))thul Wrote: [ -> ]An eruption of super-volcanic size will hurl enough ash up into the air to clog up very large regions. Dragons generally lived in one main region, so while it was not enough to cover entire atmosphere in a layer of life-killing ash, it was enough to slay essentially all dragon-kind. There is one dragon that escaped, but no indications of any others. (that excludes the cocoons)

Such catastrophe will not give anyone time to run (or in this case, fly) away.

I would dispute that as the effects of a volcanic eruption are not so instantaneous as it would seem. It would still take several days, if not weeks, for the ash cloud to cover the entire continent, even if the eruption continued for a very long time. The existence of Skill pillars allows quick movement for Elderlings and Skill users to escape to other parts and warn others of the catastrophe, and dragons can spot the ash cloud from miles away and those nearby can easily fly away. Dragons certainly could have resettled in another land far away from the disaster-struck areas, but instead they all died off, suddenly and mysteriously. I doubt what really rendered them nearly extinct was a natural phenomenon.

Quote:When dragon-kind essentially became extinct, Elderkind also expired. Elderlings are, after all reliant upon dragon-kind to exist.
It is however not unlikely that elderlings were a bit aloof when compared to regular humans. For a good part they did not use scrolls, but memory stone. Due to that, a lot of their knowledge became inaccessible upon their disappearing. combine that with the fact that people will abandon higher learnings in the face of disaster, and you have ample reason for Elderlings to quickly pass from common knowledge. in the time period around the Elderling demise only a very small minority had knowledge of the reading arts, and most history was passed down orally. within some generations (5-6) any oral stories of Elderlings would have become extremely distorted, eventually turning into fairy tales for all except those few in the nobility that can read the few historical texts written down.

I think they did have scrolls. I vaguely remember Fitz finding rooms full of scrolls in Aslevjal, and empty scroll cubbies in the Rain Wild excavation site where they've long rotted away.
You put up a very good point in how easy it is for knowledge to fade away. Much like any ancient language, such as ancient Egyptian or Mayan hieroglyphs, if there is no key, no Rosetta Stone, it would be terribly difficult for any contemporary translator to make sense out of them. The Skill scrolls Chade retained from Galen are all written in very archaic language and the last Skillmaters who could not only decipher them but mastered the techniques they described, have all died. Also, human methods of retaining knowledge for future visits is likewise very fragile. I recall the Library of Alexandria and its incredible trove of knowledge destroyed and lost to the ages. Beowulf is another example where it has probably evolved through several interpretations from its original source as it was passed down orally before one version of many was written down in one manuscript that managed to survive after centuries of obscurity.

Quote:Since the Elderlings lived apart from the majority of humans, and quite far away from places like the six duchies, none even thought to investigate their homelands after such disaster. They had no need to contact them, and the common folk had not the means. Thus what few Elderlings that may have survived passed away while humans elsewhere were oblivious.

If you have no elaborate knowledge, then you simply cannot recreate something fully. Combine that with the fact that you need dragons to create Elderlings, and you have ample evidence why their society could not simply be rebuilt by anyone.

While Elderlings did live apart from humans, I do not think they lived that far away. Most likely the Elderlings inhabited the areas that cater to dragons while humans lived in the outskirts or countryside. Elderlings are created from humans, and the memory stones of Kelsingra remember humans inhabiting the city. I also think full-fledged Elderlings were most likely the minority in the general non-dragon population. Most of the population probably remained human. Which brings up a question: can Elderlings pro-create? It's known that Elderling families vie for the attention of dragons, but is it because they wanted to transform their human-born offspring?

I would also dispute that Elderling society could not be rebuilt in some form. Humans in RotE are known to possess both Skill and Wit, and some, such as Kettle, are adept enough that they could artificially extend their life to rival that of an Elderling. With all the knowledge that Skillmasters attained and passed down, there is no doubt that it is possible for humans to achieve some Elderling attributes. Being masterful Skill users, they could access information kept in memory stones or in Elderling artifacts. The attempts by Skill coteries to create dragons from memory stone is evidence that they indeed explored Elderling magic. Perhaps they found the secret to the creation of Elderlings and wanted to create a dragon to do just that? Whatever their reasons, it remains obvious that if there ever were any attempts to recreate Elderling glory, it was not successful for whatever reason that remains a mystery.

There's also the question: if Skill users in post-Elderling times tried to attain Elderling attributes without the aid of a dragon, then why wouldn't the humans who were around at the time of dragons do that as well? Living around magical beings that can live for centuries is bound to make humans envious. Jinna voices such thoughts when she observes that people tend to be jealous and afraid of others who possess abilities that they cannot fathom. Only rather than being in awe of other humans, humans were in awe of dragons and Elderlings.
These beings agree that it may take time for a single such eruption to affect an entire continent. However, it is quite possible that there were in fact multiple eruptions all at once in many locations, combined with other disasters. There has not appeared any obvious evidence of a volcanic caldera in the books, so either the crater(s) are big enough to be unnoticeable, or beyond the edges of the map. Do not make the error of comparing such eruption to those recent ones on Iceland. active Icelandic volcanoes are to a large part submerged beneath glaciers, and so they do not erupt the same way. Supervolcanoes also have much larger ashclouds, though that depends on type of eruption. If you make there be such eruptions all along the upwind side of elderling territory and combine it with numerous other disaster types like earthquakes and the tectonic plate impact described earlier, you will have enough to cause quick extinction. Especially if the eruption occurred beneath the so-called "jet stream". Dragons, like humans and Elderlings need to breathe and it is proven that it is unhealthy for humans to breathe volcanic ash. These being presume it is the same for dragons and Elderlings.
These being have no knowledge as to whether the Elderling disaster be natural or unnatural, but being what they are, they try to explain it using natural science of this world.



There is indeed evidence the Elderlings had some scrolls. But they did not rely on that solely. Most of the scrolls Fitz found on Aslevjal were the stolen skill scrolls of Buckkeep, not Elderling scrolls. A lot about Elderling culture was probably never written down, as you would not write a scroll to describe what a horse is. It was once too common to write down, as anyone with questions would instead travel to ask instead of reading. Especially when text was written on parchment, not on paper. Parchment requires animal skin to make, so it is much more precious and would not be used to write down common knowledge.
With their sudden extinction, the option to write it all down disappeared virtually overnight (not saying the disaster took just a night).


As for their place of residence, it would seem to these beings that you misunderstood the meaning behind 'thul's words. Evidence has been given that humans also lived near Elderling cities, yes. But not all humans. Whatever killed the dragons and Elderlings, would also have killed off those humans residing near the Elderling cities. Only humans to survive would be those that were far enough away.
When it comes to the skill pillars, yes those were available, but they were not commonly used, and possibly only a fraction escaped. Of those, the majority reached Aslevjal where they eventually met Icefyre. (Is that his true name? Or is it a name like Skymaw?)
In a society that numbered in the (tens of) thousands, it is impossible to rebuild it from around one hundred individuals.

The learning in the Skill may in fact be all that remained of those Elderlings once they died off. That and the Elderling blood present in various lines. The last heritage of the Elderlings. All evidence of the books so far indicate that magical abilities like the skill stem from having Elderling blood, however thin it may be. To attain certain Elderling attributes humans would have to have Elderling blood. Most humans would not be able to fathom the abilities, let alone attain them.

In order to access information contained in the memory stones, the humans would have to know of it first, and it is not too likely that many knew of such stones, let alone possessed them.

As for your procreational questions... Yes, Elderlings can reproduce, but not as easily as humans. The reason for that stems from their long lifespans. Long-lived species do not reproduce as quickly as short-lived species. If they were to reproduce as quickly as humans, they would quickly outnumber humans. These beings had a theory a while ago that beings that are neither human nor Elderling, but something in between are incapable of producing live offspring due to the genetic changes in progress.


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Off-topic
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It is finally good to have another good-natured argument like this...
(Jun-10-2011, 10:42 AM (UTC))thul Wrote: [ -> ]There is indeed evidence the Elderlings had some scrolls. But they did not rely on that solely. Most of the scrolls Fitz found on Aslevjal were the stolen skill scrolls of Buckkeep, not Elderling scrolls. A lot about Elderling culture was probably never written down, as you would not write a scroll to describe what a horse is. It was once too common to write down, as anyone with questions would instead travel to ask instead of reading. Especially when text was written on parchment, not on paper. Parchment requires animal skin to make, so it is much more precious and would not be used to write down common knowledge.
With their sudden extinction, the option to write it all down disappeared virtually overnight (not saying the disaster took just a night).

Impermanence is definitely something that is impossible to combat. It brings to mind of how so many societies today rely on maintaining digital databases, even when computer data is so inherently so fragile in nature. An incidental power surge, static electricity, or even spilled coffee, can corrupt volumes of precious data. The strength in digital information is that it is kept in several places, so that even if it is destroyed, there remain other copies stored in other locations. I come to think of dragons as living databases that continually grow and evolve as they consume the bits and pieces of memories of other living beings. However, despite this ability and a dragon's long life expectancy, even this strategy proved to be insufficient and fallible when pitted against....whatever it was that rendered them nearly extinct.

Quote:The learning in the Skill may in fact be all that remained of those Elderlings once they died off. That and the Elderling blood present in various lines. The last heritage of the Elderlings. All evidence of the books so far indicate that magical abilities like the skill stem from having Elderling blood, however thin it may be. To attain certain Elderling attributes humans would have to have Elderling blood. Most humans would not be able to fathom the abilities, let alone attain them.

Perhaps this is why I think dragon/Elderling enthusiasts like Chade and Alise will probably be instrumental in their work extracting, deciphering, and documenting the knowledge gained by speaking with dragons and perusing Skill scrolls. The dragons on the Tarman expedition have bits and pieces of their past lives, while the Skills scrolls hold bits and pieces of human knowledge painstakingly gathered throughout the centuries. The extinction of dragons and Elderlings allowed humans to grow into prominence, and now they meet again. The Fool's interventions may bring about a great change in human/dragon dynamics. What will happen if you combine several millennial worth of ancient knowledge, with the innovations of human ingenuity and experimentation?

Quote:As for your procreational questions... Yes, Elderlings can reproduce, but not as easily as humans. The reason for that stems from their long lifespans. Long-lived species do not reproduce as quickly as short-lived species. If they were to reproduce as quickly as humans, they would quickly outnumber humans. These beings had a theory a while ago that beings that are neither human nor Elderling, but something in between are incapable of producing live offspring due to the genetic changes in progress.

Not necessarily true in all cases, as there are species of plants that can live for hundreds of years, and asexual organisms live forever in a sense. But in most cases you are correct. I also think that a long-lived sentient species would most likely give a lot more thought into the grand scheme of things and would not worry so much about perpetuating its species. And if an animal were to live so long as a dragon or Elderling, comparatively speaking, there should already be more competant defenses or checks against mutations, so that any instances of cancer should be minimal until time of death. I think it's more psychological than biological that Elderlings do not procreate as often as humans.

Quote:It is finally good to have another good-natured argument like this...

Yes, while I do like engaging in arguments, I hope I never come across as argumentative. Most of the time I'm just trying to play around with ideas and should no one bounce ideas back and forth I don't think I'd ever really explore such topics to any significant breadth or depth.

The preceding arguments have led my suspicions of ulterior motive between human factions and Elderling ones leading to the demise of their civilization to diminish to an extent. And while I understand that most of the time, extinctions occur because of natural phenomena, I still think the sudden (and thorough) destruction of such a seemingly powerful and enlightened civilization to be anomalous and possibly contrived. Could the White Prophets have played a role?

(God, look at this essay, I really should get some sleep and maybe do something more productive.)
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