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Snowhawk

Supreme_Atromancer
Supreme_Atromancer
✭✭✭✭✭
One of the important elements in Elder Scrolls exploration is the sort of exploration you can do of the world, its people, their issues, their histories and their enigmas. Even those we know were most likely intended by the developers as mysteries, the true nature of which will likely never be revealed, there are still locations to discover, opinions to explore, and a story to be read by merely engaging with the world. This is the quintessence of exploration in a world intended to be immersive.

During 2020's Summerset Celebration, ZOS introduced pages of a style called Snowhawk Mage. With its sense of texture, volume and weight, and without the contrived panels and arbitrary lines for the sake of the "busy" hallmark of some zos designs, it is arguably amongst the most authentic-feeling styles introduced to date. More compelling still, the style is evocative of a very particular type of character- layers of heavy cloth trimmed with furs covering all but the face, to which it bestows a very owl- or hawk-like affect. It is not flashy or refined, but practical and earthy. The design gives off Greybeard robe vibes, from the cloistered order of wise men we encounter at High Hrothgar in TES5, and lends the impression of a kind of secretive, hermitic sect minding forgotten lore in some hoary archive lost in some snowbound corner of Tamriel.

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Interestingly, the name of that lost, snowbound corner has, it turns out, existed in the older TES games. You could visit the city of Snowhawk in Arena during the Imperial Simulacrum, when it was ruled by a certain King Torbens and boasted the Ice Demons gladiatorial team. A source refers to it in TES4 during the Oblivion Crisis, but by Skyrim's time, only a ruined tower remains to hint at its fate.

Its location between games in which it does appear varies, with Arena showing it south of Solitude somewhere near what will become the border of The Reach in later games.

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In TES5, the ruined fortress which bears the name lies just west of Morthal. Given the rough nature of Arena's Tamriel, and the striking similarity between TES5's and ESO's Western Skyrim, TES5's location would seem to be the more canon. Indeed, these two more recent versions of Skyrim are so similar that every road traces exactly the same route, every contour remains true, the shape of the marshes around Morthal is exactly the same.

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But despite the suggested existence of the Snowhawk Mages during ESO's timeframe, there is nothing of Snowhawk in the location corresponding to TES5's Fort Snowhawk, even though you can see the exact location it should stand in ESO because the rest of the landforms around it are identical.

To add to the mystery, in an interview discussing the art and world design of Western Skyrim shortly before its release, ( https://en.uesp.net/wiki/General:ESO_Live_Art_and_Lore_of_Greymoor ) Art Director CJ Grebb explains that they wanted to recognise the future importance of Snowhawk by putting something interesting where one day the fort will stand. Confusingly, he explains this spot is marked by Karthald in ESO's version of the map.

By paying attention to the striking similarity between the 2 versions of Western Skyrim (ESO's and TES5's), it is easy to see that Karthald marks the spot that in TES5 will become Broken Tower Redoubt. This makes sense in light of the events that unfold during its story, and in light of CJ's remarks about the location demanding development attention due to its interesting strategic location.

Alternatively, CJ said what he meant: Arena's map shows Snowhawk in roughly this area. This has, in the past, fuelled speculation that Snowhawk was an old capital of The Reach. Perhaps fallen Karthold is replaced by Snowhawk on the borders of The Reach in the future?

However keeping in mind the degree of fidelity to Skyrim's map, this would mean that Snowhawk must exist in this spot, become inexpliccably replaced by Broken Tower Redoubt in the 4th era, and have a fort named after it many miles away near Morthal. The more parsimonious solution is that CJ meant Broken Tower Redoubt, but that Snowhawk's existence was, at least, in their minds.

There does stand, in place of Skyrim's Fort Snowhawk location in ESO, an ancient nordic-style structural foundation, including one of the stone hawk totems. If this is what CJ actually meant when he referenced Snowhawk, then what will become one of Skyrim's 8 major cities during the events of Arena, and nothing but a crumbling fort by Skyrim's, started out as some sort of ancient nordic structure.

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Beyond the arch, there's a raised platform, upon which stands a stone dais flanked by two open, empty stone sarcophagi. A grey hawk roosts on the corner of the dais. Around the site are a small number of neutral wisps.

Sadly, there's nothing more we can know based on the information zos have given us, and nothing more to explore. If it *is* meant to be a precursor to the city- and later fort- there is no way to know it without knowing Snowhawk is a thing. Nothing references it in ESO. The world is meant to tell a story, but there's nothing here. Is this place named for the Mages, or are the Mages named for the place? Who created the place, and what purpose does it serve? Does it predate the Mages, or are the Snowhawk Mages as old as the ancient Nords who constructed in this fashion? I think its a shame to go to all the effort to recognise the existence of this place, acknowledge old lore and design an evocative style around this mysterious concept of some sort of cloistered, snowy mage and have nothing that we can learn about it. Snowhawk must be important- as mentioned above, by the Third Era, it is one of the 8 major cities of Skyrim. That implies significant story. An air of mystery can be good on occasion, but when its over-used, it can come off as hand-wavy, which defeats immersion because you get the sense that the developers really aren't invested, so why should you? A lorebook, a mystery to uncover, something to learn about the history of Tamriel- could be a really cool idea if there was commitment or conviction behind it. Instead, no one knows what Snowhawk is, or what its Mages are, because its a prop to imply someone thought about it. No one cares, because there is no reason to. Exploration is rewarded only with the discovery of frustration, and its hard not to come to the conclusion that time would have been better spent being productive and efficiently grinding stuff.

I would love it if the developers did something with the concept one day. A single lorebook, npcs with opinions or insight, or just anything to explore could add a lot. There's always the need for dynamic locations- side quests in otherwise unrelated chapters or prologue quests sometimes send us to far-flung locations, so there's scope for something, even low-key. Perhaps we could meet one of their members one day and talk with him or her? More broadly, I hope that this sort of thing could be inspiration for the little vignettes and striking locales in the future. I think that these could potentially be great opportunities for touching on important aspects of the lore that story plots don't have the time or space to touch on.
Edited by Supreme_Atromancer on March 14, 2022 12:33AM
  • Hunter_02
    Hunter_02
    Soul Shriven
    If I may necro this.

    I, too, am one of those few people who were a bit vexed by this bit of lore, especially by the lack of information on it. I always thought that this was a niche topic that I, same as you, got a bit too invested in.
    Contrary to you, however, I do not think that the mystic aura that enshrouds this possible former order of Skyrim mages is "too much". It actually fits a universe whose lore is primarily told through often contradicting accounts. It's certainly a nice breath of fresh mountain air that we have a more obscure and far less significant mystery on our hands with this, one that isn't resolved by an NPC, an item description or a lore book.

    I would thus propose we take a look at what we have and go from there, instead of focusing on (and downright scrutinizing) an interview with some poor level designers who may or may not have remembered a certain location wrongly. After all, the ESO location of the Snowhawk Ritual Site (as I have christened it) absolutely matches the location of the Snowhawk Fort in Skyrim. That CJ's localization of Snowhawk matches the one of Arena may have significance, but I'll ignore it in favour of the two latest ES games. After all, Arena's lore tends to be a bit...unpolished and vague, prone to retconning.

    Now: Symbolism. The species doesn't exist in real life, but that's hardly ever held back fantasy universes - have you ever considered that this one white-plumed hawk chilling on the dais right next to that wispmother may be an actual snow hawk?
    Perhaps, since transformation magic is a thing in the ES universe, this might actually be a Snowhawk mage in disguise.

    Another theory I'd like to propose requires you to think a little outside the box. What if Snowhawk isn't the name of a sorcerer's cabal, but rather a long-forgotten nickname of Shalidor? That would explain why the name has remained in circulation for such a long time, first for an ancient Nordic-style ritual site where he most likely performed a lot of his experiments, then for a fortified town built a few kilometers away from the place, then for an Imperial fort that was built on top of that old ritual site. Not only that, but Labyrinthian - the maze Shalidor built - is not too far away either, strongly suggesting he was active in that particular area. It may also not be a coincidence that the entrance to Shalidor's Shrouded Realm - itself a piece of Crown Store lore - is located nearby as well.
    As an extension to that theory, I'd also like to suggest the possibility that "Snow Hawk" may be the name traditionally given to any Skyrim mage, or at least that used to be the case. Either the practice would have started with Shalidor or began independently, perhaps even before his time.

    To that end, I'd like to stress that the usage of magic in Nordic lands in the 1st Era wasn't as shunned by the commonfolk as it is in the 4th Era, a development already starting in the 2nd era. Where magic is simply regarded as another, simply unusual way of fighting for a Nord in the 1st and 2nd Eras, it is eyed with barely-concealed distrust in the 4th Era, as are those who practice it. This might be due to some cataclysms that one could describe as to have occured, well, magically: The destruction of Winterhold around eighty years before the events of Skyrim, as an example, is commonly considered to be the work of those "evil mages".
    The Snow Elves of the Mythic Era were powerful magic users who eventually turned against the Nords of Saarthal in a genocide known as the "Night of Tears". They claimed that the Nords were too fertile and thus would out-populate them eventually, but in reality they sought a magical artifact rumored to be hidden deep beneath Saarthal (yes - the Eye of Magnus).
    Spinning this theory further, it may have so happened that the presence of this Eye, as a leftover from creation, would have been responsible for imbuing the Nords with a heightened aptitude for using magicks compared to other races of Men. This may have been the reason why Skyrim produced several powerful wizards despite a clear martial focus within their culture, even back then. One also shouldn't forget that the Thu'um is nothing but a form of magic as well, a magic unique to the Nords.

    There's yet another thing I'd like to bring to attention. In TESO, in the north of the Morthal swamps, at the base of the Great Arch upon which Solitude rests, there is a so-called striking locale known as "Storm Hawk's Altar". There's not much to it, except the design (and a particularly misplaced journal). Similar to the Snow Hawk's Altar, it features ancient Nordic architecture; and the journal of Anjuld (the clothier from ESO's iteration of Radiant Raiment) can be found there. Yes, I have checked: The location also exists in TES V, though entirely unmarked (checked even on the Wiki with its extensive archive of unmarked locations).
    There are two questions that pop up here:
    What's with the name of this place? Storm Hawk, Snow Hawk? Potato, potato? Or is there more significance behind it? Perhaps we've gotten it wrong all along, and this would be about Hawks in general: This animal often represents Kyne as a totemic symbol, and it could potentially appear in different aspects that would be worshipped by different cults in different areas. Perhaps this proposed Kyne cult had Clever Men and Women who'd take up the name of the Hawk aspect they're worshipping: Snowhawk Mages, Stormhawk Mages, and potentially Firehawk Mages (who knows? We're yet to see "Middle Skyrim" in ESO). Perhaps their abilities reflect the aspect they're worshipping, so they'd be Ice Mages, Storm Mages, Fire Mages respectively.
    The second question that pops up is: What on Nirn is Anjuld's Journal doing there of all places? My first thought: It fell. I mean, it's pretty close to the base of the arch. He may have stood on top of the city wall, enjoying the beautiful vista that the northern coastline of Skyrim offers, all the while bringing to paper his latest journal entry, when a particularly violent gust of wind would have ripped the book from his hands to send it tumbling down into a completely unrelated location.
    Second guess: It was all part of a quest that fell down onto the cutting room floor. After all, in the journal, he complains about a feeling of being watched whenever he leaves his store, which sounds too specific to be just an ominous premonition about the things to come (the events of the Greymoor chapter).

    I'm going to go ahead and assume that we might get some more lore on this within a potential "Middle Skyrim" chapter, but I wouldn't be surprised if that weren't the case. As evidenced, it makes for a decent mystery, as we have just about enough information to start speculating, but by far not enough to figure it out fully. More of that, please!
    Edited by Hunter_02 on May 4, 2022 7:08PM
  • Supreme_Atromancer
    Supreme_Atromancer
    ✭✭✭✭✭
    Hey, great post. Very interesting thoughts.

    Firstly, I just want to make it clear that I had no intention on calling CJ out! Mistakes happen, but he does amazing work. It was just drawing attention to one piece of the puzzle more than anything.

    Secondly, I think what you wrote seems viable. Perhaps both ideas could be reconciled if Snowhawks were actually an order which Shalidor was part of. He may have lead them, or even just been a distinguished member. I do tend to think that the existence of a few clandestine, but innately powerful nordic mages isn't necessarily mutually exclusive with a typical nordic disdain for magic even apparent in the Merethic- but then I like that they're kind of rugged and unmagical as a rule.

    I noticed the Stormhawk altar when I was exploring and got intrigued until I realised I was reading it wrong lol. At that point I stopped thinking about it, but I think you actually could be right and its very curious. I felt like nordic magic, as we saw in Skyrim was very elemental in nature (which seemed to fit the theme). I also think that there's some lore about Nords being totemistic before they adopted the more traditionalised 8 divines? If so, this feels like it could be a deliberate attempt to lean into that. It doesn't seem impossible that it was something that they had planned, but cut, though if they did, its a massive shame!
  • Supreme_Atromancer
    Supreme_Atromancer
    ✭✭✭✭✭
    Hunter_02 wrote: »

    Contrary to you, however, I do not think that the mystic aura that enshrouds this possible former order of Skyrim mages is "too much", it actually fits a universe whose lore is primarily told through often contradicting accounts. It's certainly a nice breath of fresh mountain air that we have a more obscure and far less significant mystery on our hands with this, one that isn't resolved by an NPC, an item description or a lore book.

    One thing on this, though. I think that its a tricky one, because to feel engaged, it needs to seem that there really might be an answer there. There kinda is an unspoken contract of trust between those telling the stories and those engaging them. If it seems that thought or plans have gone into it, that there *might* be something to explore or to discover, its easier to stay engaged. If its part of a tendency to hand-waive things it devalues the device because what's the point of wondering when the answer is "the writers never bothered, why am I?" Mysteries like this need effort put into them too, if they're just shortcuts to give the illusion of depth, they're just disposable lore. That's not to say that there always needs to be one explicit answer, or that I think that's necessarily what they've done here.
  • Hunter_02
    Hunter_02
    Soul Shriven
    Hunter_02 wrote: »

    Contrary to you, however, I do not think that the mystic aura that enshrouds this possible former order of Skyrim mages is "too much", it actually fits a universe whose lore is primarily told through often contradicting accounts. It's certainly a nice breath of fresh mountain air that we have a more obscure and far less significant mystery on our hands with this, one that isn't resolved by an NPC, an item description or a lore book.

    One thing on this, though. I think that its a tricky one, because to feel engaged, it needs to seem that there really might be an answer there. There kinda is an unspoken contract of trust between those telling the stories and those engaging them. If it seems that thought or plans have gone into it, that there *might* be something to explore or to discover, its easier to stay engaged. If its part of a tendency to hand-waive things it devalues the device because what's the point of wondering when the answer is "the writers never bothered, why am I?" Mysteries like this need effort put into them too, if they're just shortcuts to give the illusion of depth, they're just disposable lore. That's not to say that there always needs to be one explicit answer, or that I think that's necessarily what they've done here.

    I would agree with you were it not for the fact that the lore we're seeing is still work in progress, and has been ever since Arena. It's not "finished" yet, it never can be as long as the ES universe exists, and this bit about Snowhawk has surely not been thrown out of the window. It will most likely get a satisfying answer in whatever chapter or DLC will finally allow us to visit the missing provinces of Skyrim. I'd start to get antsy about this if even by then there'd be nothing.
    I know it sucks that we likely won't see this enigma resolved anytime soon, but I firmly believe that the time from finding a mystery to finally resolving it is the most interesting time, as it allows us to speculate outside of established boundaries - the box, as it were. Maybe that's just me.
    Hey, great post. Very interesting thoughts.

    Firstly, I just want to make it clear that I had no intention on calling CJ out! Mistakes happen, but he does amazing work. It was just drawing attention to one piece of the puzzle more than anything.

    Secondly, I think what you wrote seems viable. Perhaps both ideas could be reconciled if Snowhawks were actually an order which Shalidor was part of. He may have lead them, or even just been a distinguished member. I do tend to think that the existence of a few clandestine, but innately powerful nordic mages isn't necessarily mutually exclusive with a typical nordic disdain for magic even apparent in the Merethic- but then I like that they're kind of rugged and unmagical as a rule.

    I noticed the Stormhawk altar when I was exploring and got intrigued until I realised I was reading it wrong lol. At that point I stopped thinking about it, but I think you actually could be right and its very curious. I felt like nordic magic, as we saw in Skyrim was very elemental in nature (which seemed to fit the theme). I also think that there's some lore about Nords being totemistic before they adopted the more traditionalised 8 divines? If so, this feels like it could be a deliberate attempt to lean into that. It doesn't seem impossible that it was something that they had planned, but cut, though if they did, its a massive shame!

    It was the same for me when I discovered it! I merely thought: "Hawk" again? Come on, there's got to be a connection! The Snowhawk mage outfit, this similarly-named altar, Fort Snowhawk being in the exact location as a strange ritual site upon which a certain raptor that could easily be described as a "snow hawk" chills...symbolism overload. There's got to be something, and it would be disingenuous towards us nerds to not give us more lore on this eventually.

    And yes, the Atmorans, the Nordic (and Nedic) precursor race brought their totemic religion to Skyrim. Kyne, the Nordic Mother Goddess (also known as Kynareth/Khenarthi) is often represented as a hawk - and not only in Skyrim (as per the loading screen description of Khenarthi's Roost).

    EDIT: Oh, and I didn't mean to imply that you called our man CJ out for anything or otherwise criticized him in somehow. I merely felt like you were reading just a bit too much into the interview.
    Edited by Hunter_02 on April 15, 2022 6:56PM
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