When I first wrote “Of Fire Ants and Hooms”, a lot of people didn’t know what to think of it. Among other criticisms, some commentators thought fire ants shouldn’t exist in Morrowind, and many pointed out (rightfully) that “Phand” wasn’t a Dunmer name and so probably shouldn’t be used in a fiction piece written by a Dunmer.
The following text was my answer. It is written tongue-in-cheek and meant to be a literary analysis of the now-classically Dunmer tale. Much of it is intentionally wrong. Some of it is nearing the truth. Here and there, it hits it right on the nose. Which parts are which? Well, that would be telling, now wouldn’t it?Author’s Note
So Presenting The
Analysis and Metaphorical Exegis
On “Of Fire Ants and Hooms”
A Dark Elf Folktale Written by Shissal Asurani
My name is Eredictus Facilicius, and I write this for the greater glory of the Empire of Tamriel.Reprinted with the permission of the Imperial Library, Imperial City, all rights reserved.
“Of Fire Ants and Hooms” is an old Dark Elf folktale, styled after the writings of the Warrior-Poet God Vehk-and-Vehk of the Dark Elven pantheon. To the layman, the text proves as a curiosity only, for the author makes use of many-layered metaphors and backwards speech alike to those employed by his god. To the scholar and, assumably, to the Dark Elven people, the value of this text goes far beyond.
For the Western audience, it serves as a window into the exclusivist Dark Elven sects and their peculiar world-views and logics. Unfortunately, the meaning of this text to the Dark Elven people is unclear, and the natives of the Eastern Province are recalcitrant in telling, having been recorded in multiple eras to demarcate the faith and intelligence of their conquerors. One can then only look at this text from the point of view of the Higher People, and I have made much use of consulting with the more friendly-natured High Elves who study at the Library.
Though they have asked me not to admit so, staying my pen would have me engaging in an act of scholarly dishonesty, and I put to word what would irritate my High Elf companions, and that is to say, even their understanding of the Eastern Province is slim. There are few things they can shed enlightenment on to further our understanding of the background of the tale:
Of immediate curiosity is the author’s use of fire ants. Ants are not native to Morrowind, and so that they would be commonplace enough for an Ashlander to have used them in desecalating tribal disagreements seems a flight of fancy. It is easy to assume that fire ants, like the hooms, are simply a figment of imagination created for narrative purposes. Unfortunately, this theory has since been disproven by the existence of hooms in Morrowind, and perhaps it is not a stretch of the imagination to assume that there are also fire ants in the eastern-most province, now elevated to a status of legend in comparison to the pest delineation such creatures have achieved in our glorious homeland. The Eastern Province is filled with creatures of insectoid and reptillian nature, and it is not too far off to assume that the Morrowind people revere them much as backwards Witch Covens of High Rock may revere nature.
My collaborators can also define to me what an Ashlander is, the race of one of the protagonists, and describe them as a rather ill-witted and uncivilized breed of Dark Elf that has taken to living in the most unsanitary conditions (if Asurani’s folktale is to be believed), and spend their days herding the native beasts of shalk and guar. The Ashlanders reportedly engage in many rituals involving mind-polluting substances, and their culture is often torn by war, sexual tension, and marital disputes. This much can clearly be taken from the text, and I do not doubt my collaborators’ information regarding such.
The other main character, Phand, is of an unknown quality which stumps even the most well-bred of our scholars here. He bears no surname for which to trace his lineage by, which elves in general are fond of doing, and his name is too common for Western audiences to form any conclusions as to his race or origin, though one could assume he was born during the 2nd Era, during which such names were common.
That he is an outlander suggests that we are not supposed to hold much respect for him or his manner of upbringing, and Phand’s petty nature as demonstrated by the tale bears this out. For all this, the folktale is a recounting of a deep friendship just as much as suggesting foreign idiocy, and it begs the question of whether the Dark Elves make as little of their social responsibilities as they do of the advances of Western society. My collaborators assure me that the Eastern Province is fraught with House wars and assassinations, a truly cutthroat social climate, which gives credence to this notion and paints a substantially darker picture of what would seem to be a light-hearted tale made in jest. In truth, the Dark Elves are never light-hearted about anything, and couching it in such terms must have been intentional for all that it was sarcastic by the author.
Which draws me finally to the curiosity of the author himself. Via deep digging in census records, I have deduced that this “Asurani” must have been member to a league known as the Buoyant Armigers. These warrior-priests were purported to dedicate themselves exclusively to Vehk-and-Vehk, comparable to the knightly orders of the West, if not as wholesome. One in the know of the outlandish religion of the Dark Elves would know that Vehk-and-Vehk is their god of lies, murder, and sex, and thus we can only imagine what one of his faithful would be like. The Buoyant Armigers hold an intimate tie with their god, patterning themselves on his deeds of deceitful language and assassination; there are also those who hold the true relation between the Dark Elf god and his followers to be sexual in nature by following this line of logic through to completion.
This potentially casts the tale in an alarmist view, which I only put here for the intellectual exercise. Of the popular theories put forth by Morrowind enthusiast Cantur Caelmoryn, one is that the entire tale “Of Fire Ants and Hooms” is instead a fanciful autobiography of the author himself, putting into metaphor his exploits and coming-to-enlightenment through his relationship with his god Vehk-and-Vehk. The foolish outlander is then more akin to the idealistic youth just beginning on his spiritual journey than it is a commentary on the inanity of Western societies, a notion which I am sure is what led to the popularity of this interpretation among my more egotistical brethern.
Despite the darker connotations Vehk-and-Vehk’s influence implies, in Morrowind culture the Buoyant Armigers have a reputation for being amongst the most heroic of their race, often traveling deep into the inhospitable ashy steppes to slay beasts and harass the mad. The duel with the Ashkhan has then been suggested as symbolism for the trials of fatih, while the desolation faced by the protagonists in northern Morrowind is colorful commentary on the missions undertaken by the Buoyant Armigers themselves in good faith, in which they preservere disheartening conditions in Vvardenfell to root out heresy before it can grow.
Though my collaborator Cantur Caelmoryn makes a strong argument for these metaphorical correlations, factually no where is this theory borne out in the text besides in the identity of the author and the peculiar comment as said onto Phand by Shabael-Ilu: “I did not have the stamina to make that journey alone, but through your preserverance, I have survived and will grow strong again.” Caelmoryn would argue that this refers to an old belief in which the gods of the Dark Elves could not exist without the faith of their people. No where on Tamriel is religious fervor as strong in Morrowind, in which honoring the Living Gods and combatting heresy is akin to keeping madness and sickness of the soul at bay. Like Shabael-Ilu’s statement, the heroes of the Dark Elf peoples are said to come and come again through their faith, and there is a small sect of worship dedicated exclusively to such saints, which interestingly enough is based in the desolate haunts of the Ashlanders and facing such similar circumstances as those be-woed upon by Shabael-Ilu.
Which leads me finally to what I believe is the ultimate purpose of this text, no matter how one sees the theory of the relationship between God and Man. As a Buoyant Armiger, Asurani’s writings were surely patterned on those of Vehk-and-Vehk himself, which in turn concern themselves greatly with the teachings of the Hortator through trials and philosophy. The 36 Lessons, as they are named, are reported to have many meanings which can be taken from them, which are only of special meaning to a chosen few. Perhaps this fanciful yarn of an outlander and Ashlander friendship is little more than this: a Buoyant Armiger’s teachings put to their people in a digestable way, with multiple meanings not every reader will understand or appreciate. That such teachings may be considered heretical is suggested by the way Shabael-Ilu and Phand are received by the Ashlander tribe, and it is left to the reader’s interpretation, much as it was to Phand, to determine whether a fete of such “worms” is truly filling or not.