I’ve been writing about the villains in The Sword and the Sorcerer the last few weeks, discussing general bad-guy traits and how some of the antagonists in the novel express them.
There’s one villain in the novel, though, who hasn’t gotten a lot of attention in these blogs. That’s Elmanax, the gnome who sets most of the book’s plot in motion when he convinces Lord Vicia of Eldenberg’s Council of Elders to murder Gothemus Draco, the world’s most powerful magician. Elmanax persuades Vicia he will help her launch a power play that will not only make Eldenberg the dominant force in the Known World’s politics, she’ll rise to the presidency of the Council.
On the surface, Elmanax is quite obviously a fiend. He is a conspirator and a manipulator, tricking Vicia into committing murder. He is a liar. He promises her the Eye of the Dragon, a magical artifact that is the lynchpin of Gothemus’s power, but he has no intention of giving it to her. He is cruel, happily attempting to kill anyone who gets in his way. (He fails on multiple homicide attempts.)
But Elmanax is a more complex character than a simple demon, bent on harming those who interfere with his plans. Unlike the other villains in the novel, who are driven largely by greed and ambition, Elmanax is after two very different things — redemption and revenge.
Understanding Elmanax’s motivations requires knowing his back story. About 12 years ago, I was doing research for a book on fairies. One of the tidbits I uncovered was that gnomes were magical creatures assigned to guard the treasures of the Earth, not short dwarves as Dungeons & Dragons would have it, and not bearded guys in pointy hats, who hang out in gardens and on well manicured lawns.
I decided to adapt this legend to The Sword and the Sorcerer. Years ago, Gothemus and his brother Zod stole the Eye of the Dragon from the underworld, where it was guarded by Elmanax. Gothemus discovered the Eye had power of the mystical forest, the Wild Lands, and he wanted control of them. Gothemus and Zod defeated Elmanax and absconded with the Eye of the Dragon, setting themselves up as the most powerful people in the Known World. That had tragic consequences for Elmanax:
Cob, the Gnome King, had been displeased and cast him out. “The purpose of a gnome is to guard the Treasures of the Earth, not to turn them over to power-hungry humans,” he’d said, as though Elmanax had somehow been complicit in the crime.
Elmanax was thrown up from the ground and forced to live on the surface. How he hated the sunlight. It bleached his naturally brown skin until it was nearly the color of a human’s. It burned his eyes. The nighttime was only marginally better. The heat of the sun was absent, but the moon still cast hateful light over him like some putrid wave crashing from a despoiled ocean. The open air tasted foul, completely devoid of the flavors of the underworld. He could barely smell the stone up here it was so covered in grass and moss.
Those two barabrians got him exiled, and they’d made themselves rich and powerful with the magic they stole from Elmanax. It was insulting and infuriating and wrong.
Elmanax is not interested killing Gothemus to get the Eye of the Dragon so he can become powerful. He hopes that, by giving it back to Cob, he’ll be allowed to return to the underworld. He seeks to end his exile.
He becomes, at least slightly, a sympathetic character in this regard. Elmanax is in the position he is, because Gothemus and Zod were greedy. They stole the artifact from him, and he was punished for succumbing to their attack. Whether or not the sentence he received was fair, Elmanax didn’t create the situation he’s reacting to. Gothemus and Zod did. Elmanax is a victim.
Elmanax seeks more than redemption, though. He’s not only interested in making up for a past failure and earning his way back home. He is bent on making Gothemus and Zod pay for what they did to him. He wants revenge too.
He convinces Lord Vicia to murder Gothemus Draco, because he knows that, once Gothemus dies, his spells will expire. Until they do, it will be nearly impossible to get the Eye.
But the practical concern is only part of his motivation. Elmanax wants Gothemus dead, because he hurt Elmanax. After years of exile, Elmanax is obsessed with killing the people who got him into trouble. He delights in the sorcerer’s death:
Elmanax taught [Vicia] the spells necessary to disguise the poison, so the old fool wouldn’t see it coming. He’d told her how to lure him out of his tower, so he would be vulnerable.
And damn if they hadn’t actually done it! The Council listened to Vicia, and now the dirty thief was dead.
Elmanax plans to kill Zod too, but he gets distracted when Gothemus’s magic mysteriously lives on after his death, making acquiring the Eye impossible. Furious with the setback, Elmanax again convinces Vicia to help him, and he doesn’t care what the consequences are so long as he gets what he wants:
Eldenberg and its Council of Elders weren’t coming out of this with the Eye of the Dragon. He was. Eldenberg was likely to get little more than a war. . . . If that was the case, the human world was in for an apocalypse.
Elmanax didn’t care. Gothemus Draco and Zod the Fearless had stolen from him. They’d based the entirety of their world on a balance of power they alone maintained. It was foolish and selfish. Now, the rest of the humans could pay for allowing themselves to be cowed.
Note here how Elmanax is using the same logic that got him exiled. He was bested by Gothemus and Zod, so Cob exiled him. Despite Elmanax’s feeling that that was unjust, he is doing the same thing. Gothemus and Zod bested the rest of the human world, so they rest of the world can suffer when Elmanax takes back the Eye. His sense of justice has been twisted by his desire for revenge.
The Fiends We Make
One of the points I wanted to make with Elmanax is that we must assume responsibility for the monsters we create. Elmanax was no one to the human world. He had no interest in humans, and he certainly bore them no malice.
But Gothemus and Zod set in motion a chain of events that led to murder and oppression when they stole from him. Elmanax was so hurt by Cob, he becomes a madman. At the novel’s climax he knows only his hatred. He only cares about getting the Eye back and inflicting pain on those in his way.
Elmanax is made by Gothemus and Zod’s greed. Gothemus essentially kills himself and destroys his brother’s operation in the future when he steals from Elmanax.
Certainly, murder and conspiracy are not justifiable or any less criminal just because Gothemus harmed Elmanax. But Gothemus and Zod have to accept responsibility for the person they helped make Elmanax into. They are as guilty as he is.
How we treat others matters. Bullying them, stealing from them, harming them reaps consequences that can be devastating.
The Sword and the Sorcerer is available now. eBook versions are just $4.99. A print edition is only $12.99. Twenty percent of the sales are donated to Freedom to Marry, the campaign to win marriage equality nationwide.