Though I’m not finished with Inquisition, Dorian is easily one of my favorite characters and with this piece, I’d like to pull back the curtain and show the coping mechanisms behind the man.
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And now, on we go!
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Quick summary for those who need the recap: Dorian Pavus is a human mage of the Atlus caste in Tevinter society. The Altus are considered to be descended from dreamers/magisters that could speak to the Old Gods when in the Fade, and they are exceedingly well regarded in the Tevinter Imperium.
This influences him growing up as it would anyone– both with the pressure to meet that ideal and also being considered great from birth, particularly because he’s from an affluent family as well.
He had a natural talent for magic, and of course, he’s Dorian… So he flourished under the envy, at least on the surface. After being expelled from a Circle at 9 years old for injuring a Magister’s son in a duel, he continued to rotate through mentors and Circles, each ending in a new fiasco.
It wasn’t until Alexius found Dorian and offered to take him as an apprentice that Dorian found the focus he needed to truly prosper. And that he did, earning merit and stations inside of four years of study in the Minrathous Circle.
…then Felix, Alexius’ son and a dear friend of Dorian’s, got the darkspawn corruption and Alexius’ wife died in the same tragedy. Two years, Dorian poured into finding a cure for Felix. But a fight between Alexius and Dorian severed their ties and immediately, Dorian was off the path to greatness again.
Between reveling in excess and loudly rejecting every flaw in his homeland, Dorian faced only hardship and scandals from then on in Tevinter. His father tried to use blood magic to “cure” his homosexuality, keeping him hidden as he slid back into old habits after his fight with Alexius…
This is the state he’s in when he joins the Inquisition. An outcast in his own nation, his trust in his own family destroyed, and completely adrift. [Backstory recap source]
So what does this all mean for Dorian’s coping mechanisms? He’s known to be very sure of himself and prefers wit on nearly every occasion, and let’s see how he uses both his bravado and humor throughout his backstory, either successfully or not.
Consider his first expulsion from a Circle at 9 years old, which was caused because he injured another child in a duel. A Magister’s son, no less, and at this point you can already presume that Dorian had a difference of opinion with most of his countrymen while still absorbing the doctrine of holding life in alarmingly low regard.
Whatever their disagreement was, Dorian would not yield. Although I’m sure he wasn’t as adeptly cunning as a child, it’s a safe bet that he pushed buttons with the Magister’s son until it came to a duel… Which he would not back down from to the point of actually injuring a fellow child.
Now there is where you behold two sides to Dorian: his general belief in morality and his inevitable acceptance of certain parts of Tevinter culture.
If he backed down from the duel, it wouldn’t be mercy, but weakness. Because it was a Magister’s son, he was expelled from that Circle… But the damage was done. He’d harmed a child in what was likely an intellectual disagreement.
And intelligent as he was, he knew that he could’ve been the one hurt or worse had the Magister’s son sucked a little less. And if that had been the case, Dorian would probably still have been the one expelled because he’s not a Magister’s son.
Dorian was an intelligent, gifted child who knew something was wrong there but didn’t have the direction, the guidance to figure out how to change it– simply how not to be affected by it.
If he was bound to expelled from the Circle regardless, and he knew he was once that argument began, why not at least show the brat his place? This is where bravado and humor comes in, and where Dorian’s… unsavory… behavior continued.
Tevinter is inherently a place where you can trust no one once you reach a higher standing, which the Pavus family held.
But ambition only doesn’t work for Dorian. A man of heart, he is internally and externally destructive without connections and a greater purpose. Given his backstory, with family alone as he is before Alexius, he’s reckless and overly aggressive. With purpose alone as he is after Alexius but before the Inquisition, he’s reckless with no regard for himself.
In the Inquisition and the Inquisitor, he finds both. Of course, this doesn’t change who he is or how he faces the world. Even as he confesses friendship with the Inquisitor, he leans on humor to make it safely through his honesty.
Such honesty was a serious risk in Tevinter culture, and factoring in the betrayal of his father and Alexius – two people he trusted most – and he’s opening himself to that all over again by admitting out loud that someone is his friend in this context:
“Perhaps it’s odd to say, but… I think of you as a friend, Inquisitor. I have precious few friends. I didn’t think to find one here.”
When the Inquisitor goes to respond, Dorian cuts them off to say, “Don’t speak. I detest confessions, and I’d like to get this over with.” He’s half kidding, mostly serious, but honesty suits Dorian far more than ambition and more than he’d care to admit.
And he needs that humor to bond over his genuine friendship with the Inquisitor. Dismissing a serious matter as light reduces its weight on him and makes him feel less threatened by the rules of the culture he grew up in: one where you don’t trust anyone and seek only power.
He can confess to being close to someone and all the solace that provides as long as he has redirection and hospital humor to get him by. And it’s not the only instance where he used these tactics to cope, not by any stretch. It’s nearly constant.
For example, in the Templar timeline, Dorian appears to warn the Inquisition at Haven. His first line of dialogue is, “if someone would open this [the gate], I’d appreciate it”. When someone does, he’s on the verge of falling over and held up only by his staff.
After trying to stand and falling onto Cullen, using his help to stand, Dorian describes himself as “a mite exhausted” and says “don’t mind me”. These are all examples of how Dorian uses levity to draw attention away from the issues he’d rather be hidden. In that case at Haven, he was on a time crunch to put it lightly, but the mentality stands.
Of course, there are those who don’t understand his perspective and view it as arrogance at best, indifference at worst. But this is part of the beauty and complexity of Dorian, and while I could go on… That concludes this study. Perhaps another time, my friends!