Is the Dragonborn in Skyrim the latest Dragon blood? What is the true nature of Divinity and reality?
Within the high fantasy universe of The Elder Scrolls (TES), the narrative breadcrumbs hidden within the game’s heavy books and tomes hint at the expansive world of the series. These are topics that most gamers could easily overlook, but the most passionate gamers, but lifelong fan James Troughton says that the seemingly endless lore is one of the main reasons TES occupies a special place in the hearts of so many players.
“I fell in love with the TES tradition mainly thanks to Morrowind, reading every scribbled note and book I found, participating in every conversation to discover every fork path. He wanted to know as much as he could about this incredibly unique world. But reading wasn’t enough for me,” says Troughton. Reverse.
The TES community encourages players to create their own interpretations of the lore, based on their unique experiences with the games. That’s in stark contrast to the strict continuity rules that govern many popular franchises. Contradictions, retcons, and inconsistencies are common and even accepted by fans. (For example, the Khajiits, one of the playable races in 1994 The old documents: Sand, they were first depicted as humans with some feline characteristics, rather than the bipedal cats of modern games).
This untamed garden of knowledge creation has its roots in the early days of the series, beginning with Sand in the mid ’90s. Developers and fans freely discussed the direction of the series on the Bethesda forums, inspired by influences from pen-and-paper RPGs. Despite attracting little attention at first, Sand it eventually became a cult hit. However, the third game in the series, Morrowind (2002), got the community’s open source approach to world building really off the ground. Bethesda included modding software known as the Morrowind Construction Set along with the game, allowing players to modify everything from dialogue to characters to their liking.
“If you have a ‘head canon’ that fits, go for it, and if you have a theory that makes sense, discuss it to your heart’s content,” Troughton says of the community approach.
This climate has encouraged many TES fans to enrich the universe by creating and sharing their own stories. The lore of the series is deliberately vague, due to the open world nature of the games. Many characters are blank slates, their fates subject to the decisions of the players. This has led the community to create writing prompts, and even a role play guide, to inspire other bloodhounds to dream up their own stories. Fan works, like this report on the demise of an ancient race known as the Dwenmer, or this full account of a Dwemeri automaton that never took place in the games, are not uncommon.
Are all these works canon? That depends on who you ask. But the broad consensus within the community of scholars of the TES tradition is a very soft “yes.”
Tamriel [the continent that TES is set in] it’s a sandbox. While there are certain guidelines that developers and fans generally adhere to, there’s also incredible room to dig into little details that don’t have existing support, or to create characters and explore ideas that completely contradict existing lore,” Lady writes. Nerevar, one of the community’s most notable scholars, in “How to Become a Lore Keeper,” a guide for newcomers to the series. Extending this nebulous concept is C0DAa comic written by Michael Kirkbride, who has worked on TES titles like dagger jump, red guard, Morrowind, ForgotY The Elder Scrolls online. The comic conceives of TES as an open source fictional universe.
In other words, anything goes, as long as it sounds believable.
Developers working on TES have their own perspectives on what counts as canon. Pete Hines, vice president of Bethesda Softworks, said that “only things that have been published in the Elder Scrolls games should be considered official lore” in a 2006 fan interview.
Others yield to a looser definition of canon. Lawrence Schick, the former loremaster and writer of The Elder Scrolls onlinespoke at length on the subject in an episode of IT live, Bethesda’s live stream of the online role-playing game on Twitch and YouTube.
“Hear what all these different people have to say. Make a decision. Create your own beliefs about what happened. Since you’re playing in their world and you’re playing a character in their world, what you think happened is only as legitimate as what that NPC thinks,” Schick said.
TES’ freeform approach to lore differs from most other entertainment franchises, most notably the Star Wars universe. When Disney bought Lucasfilm eight years ago, it deemed nearly all Star Wars content except the George Lucas films non-canon or “Legends.” But the rules were not always so strict. In a 1999 interview, Lucas said Star Wars Insiders that he was open to stories “from other writers’ imaginations, inspired by the vision of a galaxy that Star Wars provided”.
The evolution of Star Wars since 1977 reflects the fact that it was a universe created by a single individual. New stories, like the one in 2022 Obi Wan Kenobi, are scrutinized by fans and critics alike for their adherence to established canon. These types of discussions are much less frequent in the TES community, where worldbuilding has always been a collaborative effort, from Sand. Its delightfully complex and ever-evolving lore is a testament to that.
“The Legends set of stories operated on a very different scale. Instead of inviting canon as loosely defined in TES, canon was never defined in Star Wars Legends. There isn’t a lot of material that firmly connects a larger universe across multiple authors and projects,” says Ryan Thompson, a fan of both series. Reverse.
With the plethora of licensed and unlicensed media, the open-ended nature of TES lore can be disconcerting to even die-hard fans. How can one, say, make sense of Vivec’s 36 Lessons, a series of game books packed with fourth-wall-breaking concepts, or understand what really happened at the end of Daggerfall when all the realities and timelines of Daggerfall? each player are considered canon at the same time?
This is why Lady Nerevar has continuously maintained “How to Become a Lore Keeper” for over a decade, with the latest edition published this year. Lady Nerevar, a long-time librarian at one of the most important archives in TES lore, played a pivotal role in several large-scale fan projects, including Rebuilt Tamriel and a Forgot fan mod set in a separate province called Hammerfell.
Since the lore of TES can be interpreted as being told from the perspective of an unreliable narrator, Lady Nerevar says that simply presenting the so-called “facts” of the universe is not enough.
“Comprehension What reading the lore is just as important as what to read, so I introduce the reader to a variety of sources so they can learn how each writer brings their own experience to a work and how to interpret it all in contexts,” he explains.
a living story
This fluid, analytical approach to canon encourages fans to actively participate in the world-building of the series. For Troughton and Thompson, the idea of so many people contributing to the evolving tapestry of the TES universe is a big part of the franchise’s appeal.
“I started doing custom classes with unique backstories that added to the lore, like creating smuggling warrens in Kvatch and bandit clans in Skyrim that aroused the wrath of the Emperor, leading to exile in Vvardenfell,” says Troughton. . “I like to join RPG guilds to immerse myself in the world. I keep a journal in which I write about my journey through Tamriel and the decisions I am forced to make.”
TES lore can be a lot to take in, especially for newcomers. However, it is also a key element of the series’ longevity and appeal to loyal fans.
Journalist Bryan David Gilbert once did a deep dive into every book of Skyrim by Polygon.
“I don’t find it overwhelming; I like the idea of a very developed fictional world,” says Thompson. “I enjoy exploring specific concepts through fan-created material, and I strongly suspect that some of the ideas the modding community has come up with will eventually, however subtly, find their way into officially released material. From a developer standpoint, the TES lore feels like it’s in dialogue with the fan community rather than a one-way relationship.”
Meanwhile, fans of Star Wars Legends content are hopeful that Disney can one day bring their favorite characters and concepts back into official canon. Does Darth Revan exist within the Star Wars universe? Is the Sith a religion as well as an alien race of red-skinned humanoids? Are gray jedi canon? For TES fans like Troughton, this strict approach to lore feels too rigid and structured.
“That’s a very narrow way of telling a story that boxes writers in and leaves the world feeling empty and uninteresting. Obi Wan Kenobi he had little wiggle room to tell a story and ended up feeling empty because of it. It was a show of fan checklist moments more than anything,” he says. “But TES still has that loose focus, constantly contradicting itself to tell new and exciting stories. Imagine if Bethesda stuck to the ideas of Sand Y Dagger Leap… It would be boring,” he says.
“I think letting the writers choose which stories to tell is the best approach, something Star Wars used to do so well.”