How would a plant love someone?

How would a plant love someone? With this year’s release of Guild Wars 2, we were introduced to the sylvari, a species born of plants whose entire design is predicated on flora of some sort or another–from their leafy hair to their branchy toes. I was intrigued at how the world building for this species worked, since they don’t procreate sexually. Instead, their manner of love depends purely on the emotional connection.

Enter Caithe, the hero who leads the sylvari player through their first missions. Caithe is also one of the group Destiny’s Edge, which is Guild Wars 2’s own supergroup who goes around helping in the various dungeons the players can explore. Over the course of going through personal quest lines and tackling the Twilight Arbor dungeon’s story mode we learn more about Caithe’s relationship to Faolain. Faolain, as we learn, went over to the dark side, otherwise known as the Nightmare Court (each species in the game has diametrically opposed factions that split down on a good/bad divide).

Their being in a same-sex relationship is not an issue at all, and is never actually brought up — they were companions, and now they are archenemies of a sort. It is in the way the romance is structured that it seems to fit into one other facet of the sylvari species: the overall adherence to knightly traditions and honor we can recognize from our own tropes.

Among those knightly traditions was the Minnelied, the name of the genre pertaining to this courtly love. Among its more popular renditions are the romance between Tristan and Isolde or Lancelot and Guinevere. At large, the theme was about holding love and its traditions to a higher, more ‘human’ level and not giving in to base urges. The catch was that they were not supposed to be carnal or bring shame upon themselves.

Given the anatomical functions of the sylvari, it’s difficult to ascertain if they even have sex for pleasure, but they do have companionship. While Caithe and Faolain do not have the typical arrangement, they are stuck in the star-cross’d lovers’ roles whereby their love is fated to disaster. They still make allusions to their love for each other throughout various snippets of dialog. However, they are stuck in not being able to express this love in anything but an adversarial manner.

In courtly traditions, the whole function of this love between a knight and a lady was to idealize the woman and tame the knight. She was a saint (and could be a sinner if she gave into base desires — that whole virgin or whore complex), and would serve as a model for what other women could achieve and inspire in men and women alike. In this situation, Caithe would fulfill the role of the lady who is trying to offer a better example for her lover. However, she only waits a short time before springing into action — she is a warrior and representative of the sylvari court herself. Instead of being about idealizing the lady on whom she is waiting (in this case, literally waiting for her to return and give up the Nightmare Court), she serves as an ideal herself.

While most of the races seem to treat the sexes in a fairly egalitarian manner, what with not wanting to alienate the actual playerbase, the sylvari really have no need for sex beyond how they wish to express their sexual traits and gender. This makes their adoption of courtly love almost show how much they are enamored with artifice and symbols to express themselves. The traditions on which they seem to be borrowing (likely from the humans, who show the closest parallels to our medieval history) have no practical use in their life beyond what they perceive their goals to be.

When adding their expressed gender into the equation, it does make a bit of sense that two women who are not stuck in the solely in the role of knight and lady-in-waiting do not have to follow the same rules for court tradition, that the sylvari lore, story, and traditions seem to be steeped in otherwise. Their being equal is not so much the cause of the adversarial nature, as it is that both parties have the right to choice, and one of them made a choice that leads them to have to combat each other.

In fact, the fall of Faolain does not cause Caithe to fall. Between Faolain’s choice incapable of ruining her lover, and Caithe being able to still lead and fight against the forces of evil without being shamed or exiled, the sylvari seem to be adapting the traditions as they see fit (of course, as they are borrowing our traditions into their world, there is bound to be some fudging of the rules). Given how recent their species has even been born into Tyria, it serves to almost make them a child set with the task of making their own choices about how they will grow up and into what they will become. This will likely morph and change as the game’s story continues to grow, whereby they adapt even further the artifice and traditions as they desire, and not what they see as hindering.

15 Comments

  1. i like the idea of two plants being in love

    • psientist

      @Porpentine likewise, I think being plant is what makes Sylvari love lore so fruitful
      the sylvari are the body/soul fruit of a sentient queenmother who is herself the fruit of powerful hatchet-burying magic
      the psibiomass required to produce a sylvari is beyond any two sylvari
      sylvari lovers have no access to sentient progeny, no access to the metaphor of  “our love produces fruit”
      some questions:
      do sylvari flower?
      do sylvari produce pollen?
      is sylvari pollen specific enough to identify my mechanical better half?
      would a pollinated sylvari flower produce a fruit of any type?
      do sylvari have death rites?if i were sylvarin, i would plant the wood of my dead lover facing the queenmother as if to ask:
       
      Is this it?

  2. tmusem1

    “Given the anatomical functions of the sylvari, it’s difficult to ascertain if they even have sex for pleasure”
    Actually, we know that they do have sex for pleasure, as described in one of the interviews from a few months before the game was released:
     
    Martin Kerstein: I’m not exactly a lore person, but as far as I understand – yes, Sylvari can have sex and they will have sex with whoever they like, they are fully capable of doing so. But they don’t do it to create to new Sylvaris. They actually grow from the tree.

    • tmusem1

      Also, if you read the novel “Edge of Destiny” (background story on Destiny’s Edge guild) it has a few more details about Caithe and Faolain’s relationship (and there’s a few sexual metaphors between the two characters that keen readers can pick up on).
      And there is a book in Caithe’s house in-game that players can look at titled “Long Distance Relationships: 10 Ways to Make it Work”.

  3. velvetsword

    Ree Soesbee already confirmed Sylvari have sex. Purely for enjoyment, there’s no biological reason behind it. New Sylvari come from the tree.
     
    It’s ‘courtly’ in the Arthurian sense all right, but it’s less “Camelot: The Musical” and more “Le Morte d’Arthur”.

  4. SaulG

    Quick version, “Freinds with benefits.”

  5. JackMorrill

    Don’t honestly see the problem and why it keeps getting brought up?

    • thatjesushair

      @JackMorrill There is no problem at all. ;o They’re just discussing the emotional relations within another race. Lovely read.

  6. noxxic1985

    Aren’t all Sylvari siblings to one another?

    • tmusem1

      @noxxic1985 technically…some sylvari have been shown to speak to each other (and players) as if they were siblings, but according to one interview, sometimes 2 sylvari are born from the same pod on the tree and they have a close sibling connection

  7. Curuniel

    Sylvari are passionate people – it makes sense, every emotion is still quite new to them, and they have a tendency to throw themselves into things whole-heartedly. The various sylvari you can overhear talking about their own romances reflect this. Faolain is passionate, as is Caithe – they’ve just gone down different roads. Whether or not Faolain is still in love with Caithe (she may be just taking advantage of that love to lure Caithe to the Nightmare), Caithe definitely still loves Faolain. Her attempt to get over her lover by making friends didn’t really work out for her, hence the tension.I like how the sylvari focus on emotional love (there being no reproductive incentive for sex). The courtly ideals of honour and adoration are just expressions of the depth of romantic love they can feel. It’s so quaint – the sylvari have a certain appealing innocence, sometimes.

  8. wraithonwingz

    sylvari better have sex cause id totally bang trahearne. or can i say trahottie

  9. MikeCivita

    Wow, so this is what it’s like to have too much time on your hands.

  10. Jaidge

    I wish I had time to read this article, but I have to spe d every waking hour that I’m not at work grinding fractals for my best in slot gear :(
    So much for ‘we don’t make grindy games’ :(

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