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Know Your Lore: King Varian Wrynn, or: How I learned to love the jerk

Know Your Lore King Varian Wrynn, or how I learned to love the jerk SUN
The World of Warcraft is an expansive universe. You're playing the game, you're fighting the bosses, you know the how -- but do you know the why? Each week, Matthew Rossi and Anne Stickney make sure you Know Your Lore by covering the history of the story behind World of Warcraft.

King Varian Wrynn is a jerk. He's angry, he's rude, he's deliberately inflammatory. Despite the moments of kindness we've seen from Varian, they're just small moments. Yes, he let Saurfang retrieve the body of his son for Alliance players in Icecrown Citadel to witness. But he still holds a deep and unmitigated hatred for the Horde and everyone in it, including Thrall. He will quite happily talk about scouring the Undercity and purging it of all Forsaken, and he seems to be of the opinion that the only good orc for the most part is a dead one.

But his attitude issues aren't limited to the Horde. He is endlessly frustrated and angry with Jaina Proudmoore and her insistence on diplomatic attempts. He was brusque, rude, and outright against letting the worgen join the Alliance when they were desperate for help. His anger even extends to his son Anduin Wrynn, who has done nothing to outright offend his father other than following the path of a priest rather than a warrior. Varian has even gone so far as to hurt his son, nearly breaking Anduin's arm in an attempt to force him to stay put and keep him from leaving to study with the Prophet Velen.

And yet, there is something so inherently fascinating about Varian Wrynn that I cannot tear my eyes away.

Know Your Lore King Varian Wrynn, or How I learned to love the jerk SUN
The broken childhood of Varian Wrynn

Varian's early childhood was an idyllic time. His father, King Llane Wrynn, was a noble, fair, and good king who had his people's interests in his heart. Stormwind was beautiful, the world was golden, and there was little to concern the citizens of the kingdom of Azeroth -- that is, until the orcs came. And that is what Varian took with him from his childhood. The world was a wonderful place, and then the orcs arrived. The orcs brought chaos upon the ideal world of his childhood and ripped it to pieces.

The orcs also ripped his father to pieces. Varian was there when Garona murdered his father in cold blood. Though he could not understand why Garona was weeping even as she ripped his father's heart from his cooling body, he did learn one very important lesson from the experience. Garona was an orc, and she was supposedly his father's friend. Llane never treated her with anything other than kindness and respect. And his payment for his kindness was his heart, which Garona stole away with that fateful night. Orcs were not creatures that could be trusted, nor did they deserve any kindness or respect.

Know Your Lore King Varian Wrynn, or How I learned to love the jerk SUN
It was not a lesson Varian would ever forget, and it was only reinforced when Anduin Lothar fell during the days of the Second War, also killed by orcs. Lothar was like Varian's second father, having ushered the distraught child from the ruins of Stormwind to the safety of Lordaeron. Varian was treated with kindness there as well. King Terenas treated him as an equal, a monarch in his own stead. Prince Arthas treated him with the kindness shown between the best of friends.

When the Second War was over, Varian learned the harsh truth of diplomacy as well, watching as the various kingdoms that had united in the original Alliance of Lordaeron slowly splintered. The most bitter of those withdrawals was the kingdom of Gilneas, who not only refused to offer any of their vast resources and wealth to help rebuild Stormwind but built a great wall to shut them away from the rest of the world, apparently disgusted with the rest of humanity.

Varian Wrynn returned to Stormwind and was crowned king at just 18 years of age. Despite barely being an adult, Varian had already been exposed to some of the harshest realities the world had to offer. He was angry at the world, angry at the orcs that had taken his father, angry at the kingdoms who were too selfish to lend a helping hand in a time of dire need.

Know Your Lore King Varian Wrynn, or How I learned to love the jerk SUN
Love and loss

That anger was tempered into sweetness by his eventual marriage to Tiffin Ellerian. The marriage had been arranged at her birth, and the two didn't care for each other at first. But they soon fell in love and became absolutely inseparable. Tiffin cooled Varian's anger, teaching him to control it. When their son Anduin was born, it was as if Varian had returned to that idyllic time of his life -- the time when his father was still alive. And though Varian hunted for Garona, eager to avenge his father's death, the need to find her lessened in light of his new family.

Unfortunately, the idyllic time wasn't meant to last. Tiffin was killed by an errant rock thrown during the Stonemason's Guild riots, which began when the Stonemasons were not paid their fair share for rebuilding the kingdom. It was a bitter and ironic death, as Queen Tiffin was the staunchest supporter of paying the Stonemason's guild what they were owed. And in one fragile moment, Varian's world plunged back into darkness.

Know Your Lore King Varian Wrynn, or How I learned to love the jerk SUN
The only thing that drew him back out was his son. In Anduin, Varian had a piece of Tiffin. He had a reminder of the days he spent with his father. He had a reminder that there was something on this world that was worth getting up in the morning and fighting for. Anduin was far more like Llane than any would have guessed. Precocious and fiercely independent, Anduin had a mind of his own and leaned toward the idea of diplomacy far more than Varian ever cared to. Anduin convinced his father that the orcs were worth listening to, that diplomacy was something worth trying for.

On the way to a peace summit in Theramore, Varian was kidnapped by Onyxia, and she literally tore him in two. One Varian was easy-going, carefree and easily manipulated. The other represented every ounce of raw brutality and anger that Varian had bottled up over the years of bitter suffering. The easy going Varian was taken back to Stormwind, and the other escaped, only to be captured by orcs, his memory lost.

It was that raw brutality and strength that allowed Varian to persevere in the gladiator's ring. Even though Varian resisted fighting at first, he took to it with a natural grace and talent. After realizing his true identity, Varian headed back to Stormwind to confront his other half, thinking him an impostor. Once the truth was revealed, both sides of Varian Wrynn stormed the lair of Onyxia to save Anduin and put an end to the dragon once and for all. In the process, Varian found himself merged back into one entity, but he never forgot his treatment at orcish hands.

Know Your Lore King Varian Wrynn, or How I learned to love the jerk SUN
Azeroth's biggest jerk

Is it any wonder then, given what Varian experienced over his lifetime, that he is a gigantic jerk? He has no love for the orcish race; they murdered his father and murdered Lothar as well. He has no love for the Forsaken, who now reside in the former capital of Lordaeron. They were created by his former friend Arthas, who was his best friend, his rock when he fell to despair after being brought to Lordaeron's halls. Good King Terenas' throne lies in ruins, a mocking reminder of Terenas' fall at the hands of his son.

He has no love for Gilneas, for Gilneas showed neither him nor the kingdom of Stormwind any compassion when Stormwind lay in ruin. In fact, had Gilneas given Stormwind support, it is entirely likely that the Stonemason's Guild might have been paid their full due. The riots never would have occurred, and Tiffin would be alive and well at Varian's side, a staunch counterpoint to his anger, a loving mother to Anduin.

He is, in a way, not terribly happy with Jaina Proudmoore either. Her diplomatic leanings and her apparent fondness for the orcish Warchief Thrall have rubbed off on his son, and he doesn't appreciate it at all.

But Varian has every right to be angry. He has every right to be a tremendous jerk. Every moment in Varian's life has done nothing but embitter him to the rest of the world, and he struggles every day to keep that anger in check.

Know Your Lore King Varian Wrynn, or How I learned to love the jerk SUN
Yet despite all of this, behind the suffering and the anger is a man who is incredibly afraid. He is afraid he has not seen the last of despair. He is afraid that he will lose control of his anger and lash out at those he loves more than anything in the world. He is afraid that Anduin's diplomatic leanings will end in his son's death. He is desperately afraid of losing Anduin, because Anduin is the last representation, the last spark of that idyllic life he so desperately wants.

And there is an irrefutable sadness behind King Wrynn's eyes, because trying to protect his son is only succeeding in pushing him further away. Varian isn't unhappy that Anduin is showing leanings towards the priesthood; he is unhappy because he thinks Anduin will not be able to protect himself by doing so. He's unhappy that he cannot simply keep Anduin confined and safe, far from the rigors and struggles, the bitter disappointments of war.

Varian isn't necessarily trying to protect Anduin from death so much as he is trying to keep Anduin from going through what he went through -- that rotten, bitter, tragic childhood filled with so much sorrow, so much pain that Varian could not help being twisted into the person he is today. When he looks in the mirror, he despairs at the thought of Anduin ending up exactly like him, bitter and angry at having lived a life filled with incomprehensible sorrow.

And he is utterly terrified of the day he will have to let Anduin go.

Know Your Lore King Varian Wrynn, or How I learned to love the jerk SUN
Human nature

There is something so heartbreaking, so utterly human about that sentiment that you cannot help but sympathize with Varian Wrynn. What father doesn't want to give his child the best of the world? What father doesn't want to do his best to keep his child safe from harm? What father doesn't want to proudly look at his child and see in that child a better version of himself? And what kind of father doesn't twinge and hurt just a little at the thought of his child finally spreading their wings and leaving the nest?

There is something so compelling about a character like Varian Wrynn who has been through so much in his life. The few moments of happiness he's been granted were far too brief; he has a grit and a rough, almost painful persona that is just so beautifully raw in its simplicity. Varian's struggle with his anger and bitter outlook, his struggle with raising Anduin -- these are the moments that make him come alive as an incredibly real sort of character, the type of character you rarely find in Warcraft. There is an element to Varian that is so beautifully human that you cannot help but root for this man, watching intently and waiting for the day that everything finally falls into place for him.

Know Your Lore King Varian Wrynn, or How I learned to love the jerk SUN
And that's why, ultimately, Varian makes such an excellent character for a leader figure. The problem with presenting a perfect character as a leader is that when you present a figure who is simply perfect and without any detriment whatsoever, they come across as relatively flat and unbelievable. Med'an is an excellent example of this; regardless of his background or bloodline, the fact that this perfect child of Garona and Medivh came into his own with very little struggle on his part makes him into a cardboard superhero, a disingenuous figure that just falls flat.

With Varian, we have a character who was born into a life of perfect nobility and had that rug abruptly yanked out from under him. We have a character who isn't simply handed the title of hero and the amazing rewards that go with it -- Varian has to work with what life has dealt him, and the hand he has to work with is a harsh one. With Varian, we have a character who is not placed upon a pedestal for all to see; we have instead a character who has to fight and struggle and claw his way up that pedestal, until at last he stands atop.

That fight, that struggle -- that is what is going to make the moment Varian finally achieves everything he deserves a sweet one. King Varian Wrynn may be a jerk, but he is a reflection of everyone that has had to struggle with sorrow, grief, betrayal, the loss of a loved one ... all of the moments that people go through in everyday life. Varian represents a concentrated dose of humanity: rough, brutal, raw, but possessing a fierce determination and dedication that will see him through the darkest of days, until he finally reaches that moment of glory, the triumph he so completely deserves.

For more information on related subjects, please look at these other Know Your Lore entries:
While you don't need to have played the previous Warcraft games to enjoy World of Warcraft, a little history goes a long way toward making the game a lot more fun. Dig into even more of the lore and history behind the World of Warcraft in WoW Insider's Guide to Warcraft Lore.

Filed under: Lore, Know your Lore

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