Before the Brothers' War. Before the five colors of magic.
Before history itself, the plane of Dominaira was ruled by the Thran. They built machines and artifacts, the likes of which have never since been seen. But amid this civilization, a shadow took root, one that would stretch its arms across space and time.
The hideous evil of Phyrexia was born.
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In J Robert King’s The Thran, the main character, Yawgmoth, travels to the city of Halcyon to find a cure for the local plague. As he is there, several rebellions rise against him, only to have him sway the people into serving him, eventually starting war in the world. Yawgmoth becomes a villain, transforming people (quite literally) into monstrous killers in his armies. He fights and fights, all the while keeping the real ruler of the city under tight control due to infection of the plague in his body. King argues how there is always an evil lurking nearby, even if it hides itself as something kinder. He uses the story as a parallel to the wolf in sheep’s clothing as it devours the herd metaphor.
King’s viewpoint is from his childhood and experience as an editor before writing The Thran. As a child, King was always interested in the Chronicles of Narnia series, and that carried on through his writings. As an editor, he worked with TSR for Ravenloft, Dragonlance, and Planescape, and, after he had two kids, went on to writing his own trilogy. He believed in writing a series backwards, starting with a tragedy and ending with something lighter. His view towards evil in The Thran reflects this, as, considering it is a prequel, is a great tragedy to read by the end. He wrote this book in order to provide a backstory to his late 1990s trilogy, the Phyrexian Cycle.
King uses a few pieces of strong evidence to back up his argument. The first key piece is during Yawgmoth’s arrival, where his unorthodox methods of curing the plague are seen as torture to his patients. Though he is not actually torturing anyone, the people believe he is performing a wicked deed, trying to inflict pain on the sick, as the disguised wolf is first suspected by the herd. Second, when Yawgmoth finds a vaccine for the plague, he begins to distribute it among the people, becoming celebrated by everyone, man, woman, and child. He becomes accepted into the society as a new hero, able to keep them safe from harm, as the wolf mostly is after the herd welcomes it. Finally, when Yawgmoth takes over the people, turning them into abominations and sending them to war against the rest of the world, his true evil self is shown, now as much a monster on the inside as his subjects are on the outside. He uses the people’s trust to gain access to their resource as well as their lives, as any dictator would, much as the wolf rips the herd to shreds, devouring each and every sheep.
The use of evidence in this book creates a coin-like situation, constantly flipping between the good “heads” side as well as an evil “tails” side. King opens the story at about the 80% mark, in the beginning of the global war Yawgmoth caused, openly showing him as the ultimate villain in this world. King then “flips” the story back to the beginning, with Yawgmoth traavelling to the city of Halcyon to begin healing. King uses the “flipping” constantly throughout the story until it reaches the same point, at about the 90% mark. The “flips” keep reminding the reader how Yawgmoth isn’t good or evil, he is good and evil, depending on what “side” is showing. However, at the 70% mark, the story stops “flipping” and stays on the darker side with a dictatorial rule by Yawgmoth, leading his monstrosities as his true evil self.
The argument is convincing as J Robert King creates a realistic scenario of dictatorships in a fantasy world to secretly show the reader his argument. As Yawgmoth is defending his city from the alliance’s siege, he, “…prepared the fire signal,” (213). This is when Yawgmoth has fully sunk into his position as dictator, attacking the ships that are sent towards him, not caring at all for the lives about to be lost. As Yawgmoth was still hiding himself from the world in a court to decide his fate, his, “…gaze pinned those who had opposed him, one by one,” (181). Before taking absolute power, he had to maintain order so he could later annihilate his enemies for their injustice to him, as Stalin and Hitler had done in their
The concept was great, but the story moved a little bit too slowly.