Sunday, May 15, 2011

Zagor - misunderstood hero?

Zagor gets a bad reputation for being a big bad villain, even though he hasn't actually done anything to deserve that reputation.

There's a case that Darth Vader is
the real hero of Star Wars.
I'm taking all of the information given to me from the source material - The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, Return to Firetop Mountain, Legend of Zagor, Creature of Havoc, Titan, The Trolltooth wars and The Zagor Chronicles (however, I do not have the Zagor Chronicles for reference but I am going by my memory).

I will be giving an alternative character interpretation of Zagor's actions from the source material. 

Although the books describe Zagor as completely evil - and not even all of them do as the Warlock of Firetop Mountain does not state Zagor as being evil or doing evil deeds at all - it can be put down to propaganda from the so called Lawful side or people making snap judegements about powerful sorcerers who own their own mountains without looking for the details.  

Chadda Darkmane -
captain of Salamonis
and Zagor's biggest fan?
The writers of Titan obviously have no love for Zagor as well as Yaztromo and the people who try to slay him.  These are the people who wrote or influenced the accounts of the three gamebooks - Warlock of Firetop Mountain, Return to Firetop Mountain and Legend of Zagor. 

The account of Zagor in the Trolltooth wars was from Chadda Darkmane, who, although he is an officer in Salamonis, he is a man of his word and would not badmouth someone just because they have a bad reputation. 

Let's look at the facts:

How does he write battle   
plans wearing  bracelets
like those?
How does he write battle plans with
all those animals in his library?
Admittedly, Zagor's formative years don't make a good start for my case.  Zagor became an apprentice to the unapologetically evil and chaotic Volgera Darkstorm along with two other obviously evil characters. 

However, I'm sure that good teachers of magic are hard to find and that Zagor, as a gifted student did not want to squander his talent, so he picked the best teacher he could find.  Accounts say that he and his friends used to terrorise nomads.

How Volgera Darkstorm's
life ended.  Zagor seems to
get a bad reputation for
killing an evil wizard.
However, this is a classic case of peer pressure and, desperate to fit in, Zagor had to go along with these sadistic jokes.  However, he had the greater good in mind. 

It is then stated that the 'Demonic Three' as they now became known, slew their master, looted his library and went their separate ways.  Most people would put it down to their evil ways and the need for them to usurp their master, but although this might be true for Balthus Dire and Zharradan Marr, Zagor did this in order to rid the world of a powerful evil sorcerer.  A clever strategist, he planted the seeds of dissent in his co-pupils' minds in order to turn evil upon evil.  It also shows that Zagor was obviously the cleverest of the three. 

However, despite being a formidable and driven sorcerer his early associations and practice of magic gave Zagor a bad reputation with pretty much everyone.

Zagor's home

Some monument, as seen in my dreams.
Zagor then went on to Firetop Mountain, inspired by demon sent dreams, apparently.  I find this doubtful considering that Firetop Mountain is the only mountain for miles around that has a red top.  If you need demons to tell you about one of the most unique landmarks on Titan then you must have had a pretty sheltered life and Zagor had not had a sheltered life despite learning magic in the Flatlands.

The 'official' story states that Zagor led an army of chaotics and undead to wipe out the dwarves in Firetop Mountain and took their treasure.  Sounds bad, but I bet that's not the whole story.  I think that behind this story is the story of how Zagor discovered just how judgemental these 'good' types are. 

Here is what really happened.

Zagor is an enthusiastic protector
of Allansia's heratige sites.
Wanting to do some sightseeing, Zagor headed to Firetop Mountain, asking the dwarves if he could lend them a hand.  After seeing a demonstration of his magic, Zgor earned the dwarves' immediate distrust and inspired a great level of hostility in them.  A confused and hurt Zagor was chased out of the mountain by an army of angry dwarves. 

The only creatures that Zagor felt welcome amongst were the undead who don't really think or say very much and orcs and other monsters who also don't really think or say very much.  Determined to beat the bullies, Zagor went to the mountain and demanded a tour of the world famous attraction.  It was his right a s a fully paid up member of the national trust. 

The dwarves once again refused since they were a snobbish and elitist lot, so Zagor set his friends on them.  After a long and bloody battle, Zagor decided that he would remain in Firetop Mountain to protect it and make sure that all could visit it.

Firetop Mountain, which although looks a bit strange, is certainly not an evil place.  The red on the top of the mountain is not due to anything sinister or destructive like a volcano but rather it is due to some lovely flowers.  How many evil sorcerers do you know of whose criteria for a base of operations include a lovely range of flora?  I know of none. 
He doesn't want you
harming the wildlife.

These flowers, as well as being sleep inducing are also an integral part of the ritual that cures one of a powerful death spell, which afflicted Nicodemus and the hero of Caverns of the Snow witch.  If Zagor was such an evil person, surely he would have got rid of the flowers once he had realised that one of Allansia's greatest forces for good had cheated death on the top of his mountain?  No - he let a vampire slaying hero become cured of the same affliction.  Thanks for protecting the mountain, Zagor. 

It's just a hobby. 
In Warlock of Firetop Mountain, there is no allusion to Zagor doing anything evil.  All he does is sit in his mountain and play with his cards, surrounded by guardians, who, yes, let's face it, aren't the most savoury types.
Now the fact that he uses orcs instead of humans may make some people think that he's evil, but which superstisious uneducated soldiers are going to work in a freaky mountain for a sorcerer?  I bet magic has a bad reputation in the area as well.  It seems that orcs, however, are far more accepting of activities which veer from the mainstream. 

If they're both enjoying it in the
privacy of their own home
then who are you to judge?
And are the orcs performing evil acts?  It seems all they are doing is sleeping, getting drunk and engaging in some activities which although you may not agree with, they seem to like.  Sure, they may be lousy employees, but that doesn't make them evil.  For example, if you try to save this orc servant from being whipped, he still fights against you.  What does that say?

Zagor also has a few nice characters in his mountain such as the dwarves and the old shopkeeper who are a bit tired of all of these chaotic types, but maybe they see tham as a necessary evil as they don't go out and kill them all.  They don't want the bad old days where a bunch of snobbish dwarves kept out all visitors.

No, old man, I don't know
about the Long Dark Night
because I don't live in a place
where there's hundreds of
metres of solid rock between
myself and the Sun.
The only allusion to sinister goings on are the long dark nights the old man in the giftshop refers to.  But who is to say that Zagor is causing them or that he is trying to protect people from them.  Lastly, you have to question the credibility of a man who talks about the length of the night when he lives inside a mountain. Especially when he's using it as an excuse to charge an extortionate TWENTY gold pieces per candle. 

What about the hero's motive?  Are the villagers worried that Zagor is about to do something nasty to them?  No.  Does the hero want to do some sightseeing?  No.  I doubt the hero is even a member of the National Trust.  The 'hero's' motive is pure greed.  In the end, Zagor does get slain by a greedy adventurer who takes his treasure  and then may or may not use Zagor's spellbook to rule over Firetop Mountain and maybe do a whole lot a crazy stuff. 

After all, this sword swinging thief probably has less ability to handle all the powerful magic in the book.  Who is to say that they do not get corrupted by the power and try something nefarious?  Even sorcery for the cause of good is dangerous and shouldn't be used by the wrong people.  Zagor obviously had the inner strength to not go crazy with it, but most people don't.  Maybe its best that Zagor was in charge of the book.

However, if this adventurer does use the book, then they get their comeuppance a decade later when Zagor returns to claim what is rightfully his and may even save the area from this lunatic. 

I mean, how would you feel if someone broke into your house and started trashing it and the area where you  live?
Now you've annoyed him.
This could explain Zagor's behaviour in Return to Firetop Mountain. 

Sure it says in the background that casting a spell on yourself so you come back from the dead makes you evil but maybe that's superstitious peasants again.  Or maybe this book is written by the adventurer who slew him the first time and later got ejected from Firetop Mountain by the powerful sorcerer when he returned to claim what was rightfully his. 
And you can explain all of Zagor's behaviour (getting body parts, wanting to take over Allansia) as being hacked off (no pun intended) about being killed for no reason the first time.  After all, if hordes of fortune seekers kept marching into my home to kill me and take my treasure, I would give my right arm (once again, no pun intended) to take every precaution to stop it happening. 
Maybe he wanted to take over Allansia because he thought that sorcerers were getting a bad reputation and wanted to build more schools for sorcery and educate the young Allansians to show its useful side too.  Or maybe he just wanted to purge it of treasure seeking rascals.

However, once again, he is slain by another treasure seeking rascal, this time with the blessing of Yaztromo and the citizens of Kaad.  However, thankfully, the 'hero' or Yaztromo can do nothing about Zagor's resurrection magic.   
Then we get to Legend of Zagor - now Zagor wants to take over the world of Amarilla.  Or does he?
Zagor before...
He managed to get there when the Bone Demon was banished from that world.  Maybe he saw the portal as an opportunity to go to a more accepting world instead of a place where people kill him every ten years. 

and after.  He's obviously
had a change for the worse.
He's not looking after his
fingernails for a start.
However, as Yaztromo says, Zagor became mixed up with the demon, so it is not Zagor you are trying to kill, but a Zagor/demon hybrid. 

Maybe that's what made Zagor so evil in Legend of Zagor.  If it was just Zagor, then he would have just sat in Castle Argent like he did in Firetop Mountain.

In the book, Zagor performs a heroic sacrifice.  He has been fused with an evil demon who wants to destroy the world, but he does small things to help the hero.  The crystal ball that Yaztromo uses gets destroyed, but maybe Zagor was buying time by distracting the demon.  If it wasn't for him, Yaztromo may not have been able to get through at all.  Yaztromo sends gold talismans and silver daggers.  Maybe when Zagor was in the portal and he could feel himself being fused with the demon, he kept it open for a bit longer so that the talismans and daggers could get through. 

And when you are carrying the demon to the Heartfires, maybe Zagor is struggling to keep the demon unconscious so that you can complete your task, even though he knows that he will be destroyed in the process.
Zagor isn't actually
in two of these books
because he's not the
real villain - the
demon is.

I know he gets very angry because he is being faced by a 'wretch like you.', but of course he's angry.  Having his hobbies interrupted by being slain by some sword wielding vagabond is the story or Zagor's life.  It's already happened twice.  Now he's sharing his soul with a demon and although he knows he has to sacrifice himself to destroy this demon, he is bitter that the person who will slay the demon is not so different from the rogues who killed him before. 

Zagor has put all this work into being a powerful sorcerer.  All he wants is to face someone of legendary reputation.  He must feel very insulted that the people selected to slay him are basically bums of the street.  He must feel that no one respects him enough to send someone with a good reputation to slay him.  Or at least an army.

I think this all applies to the Zagor Chronicles too.  I have not read them for a while, but if I remember correctly, Zagor is not in book 1, book 2 is basically the novel version of Legend of Zagor, book 3 is set on Titan, sans Zagor and in book 4, they face the Zagor/demon hybrid again. 

Not a warlock in sight
Zagor was also in the Trolltooth Wars, where, once again, he was not trying to do anything malevolent.  In fact, he helps Darkmane to stop Marr from taking over Allansia.  Sure he's not too welcoming at first, but Darkmane and his gang have killed a few of his servants and Mantrapper tried to kill him straight away (but I'm not revealing why - read the book). 
He's not going to teach
you magic. He's tallying
you bill. 
In fact, once they are all on the same page, Zagor is a very helpful a courteous host. 
He does not demand any money for his services whereas the seemingly good Yaztromo takes 40 gold pieces for an enchanted dagger he gives to Darkmane, even though he is going to use it to save Allansia.  What a greedy so and so. 
So Zagor has helped to save Allansia once from his ex 'friends' who probably annoyed him with all their evil talk and the fact that they were giving him a bad name.  He has protected a place that was used to save the lives of Nicodemus and the slayer of the Snow Witch and when he unfortunately became fused with an evil demon he weakened it so that someone could slay it. 

So Zagor has killed an evil sorcerer, helped save the lives of two champions of good, helped save Allansia once and sacrificed himself in order to save the world of Amarilla.  He has performed more heroic acts than most protagonists in Fighting Fantasy books.   

Zagor has been widely misunderstood, partly because of peoples' distrust of sorcery and partly because he kept bad company when he was young (Balthus Dire and Zharradon Marr, who both tried something Malevolent in their gamebooks). 
Any hostile act he performed could be seen as justified anger at being socially excluded by dwarves, being constantly attacked by lowly fortune hunters or by being fused with an evil demon. 

He just wants a hug.
I think Zagor needs to be vindicated and be in a gamebook where he is allowed to let his true heroic colours show.  How about a book when Zagor comes back from the dead to find that his slayer is forcing the creatures of Firetop Mountain to invade Allansia and only he can stop it as he knows the mountain better than anyone.  However, even if he succeeds, he is still treated as the villain just because he's a sorcerer.  Which then leads to Return to Firetop Mountain...

Poor Zagor's had a hard life.  I suggest we start a 'Clear Zagor's Name' campaign where we put an end to his bad reputation.   


  1. Also Zagors Ancestors lived in the Firetop Mountain before and the Dwarfs kicked them out (the Treasure tc..).
    He just wanted to get his home back

  2. @Anonymous - Thanks for your comment. I'm glad that I have someone who agrees with me on this matter. :). I missed the point when and how the Dwarves forced their way in. When was it?

  3. An interesting post I would say. For me characters like Zagor are kinda tough to judge and label properly. IMO Zagor is one of the most interesting Fantasy Fantasy characters. But also IMO it's kinda hard to truly say whether he was a villain like his two cohorts or just wanna be left alone.

    Ok here's my interpretation(2 parts):

    IMO I woulkd agree that Zagor was not truly evil, or at least unlike his former cohorts, Balthus and Maar would at least conceal his ambition to the world. I will make arguments favoring Zagor as a hero and those against it:

    In Firetop Mountain it seems that he isn't so evil and I agree, but I wouldn't say he's good either as he didn't do anything. Yes we get the Orc whipping but that evil is inherent in that culture and it isn't part of his fault. Through I kinda suspect the shopkeeper was a gaming mechanic for players to buy items.

    But Zagor needed the orcs to help because they were...let's say easy to command. A human has more will than an orc, and more prone to superstition.

    As for the Dwarves, it seems that it was his family who came first and the Dwarves who drove them out, so I agree, he wanted his ancestral home back and was the victim in this case.

    As for the adventurer, it is clear that he wants gold. The second book retcons it to make the death heroic and implies that he did not take the spellbook after all. But what's to say that he became corrupted by greed and wealth over time. He may be smart to realize that controlling Orcs was bad news, but what if he used the money taken from Zagor to hire armies and build a castle to take over Allansia as a tyrant, and what if in that course another adventurer had to stop this fallen adventurer who has been corrupted by power? 10 years is long enough for people to change, and I think that greed could have changed the first person who slew Zagor, who may have had it coming as he was never a champion of justice in the first place.

    Now some people argue that Zagor was evil because he earned his money not from magic, but because he stole it from villagers demanding tribute. However, it could also be argued that the villagers never truly tolerated him and he felt it needed to incur a sort of wrath on the ignorant folk.

    People also make the argument that he killed nomads along with his cohorts "For the Evulz" when they were young. However it's also possible that the nomads were barbarians who were a constant threat to Darkstorm's school. So while Marr and Balthus may view it as "killing for the lulz" Zagor may simply view this as protecting his life.

    Finally Return to Firetop mountain gives us the image of Zagor as an villain who sacrificed many lives and amputated many to get 1 body back, however it can also be justified in the sense that he isn't evil, but mad. let's see it. His home's been ransaked and his body has been destroyed by the Eye of the Cyclops(which is why he may need a body). And if a wizard gets mad, what do you think would happen to those near him. Well simply put...they're screwed......

    It should also be known that Zagor is a Dark Wizard, Yaztromo is a wizard. Black Magic and Chaos can be seen as against the norms in some societies, but used to achieve goals in others, however the actions of his friends have given Dark Magic a bad name, which thus gives him a bad rep, however it could be argued that he needed to learn the Dark Arts as you said---finding magic teachers can be expensive and problematic.

    So there are some opinions on why Zagor is not evil, but rather misunderstood, however, there are also some arguments on why he isn't misunderstood, but malicious. in my next post, I shall go over these points and then, reach a viable conclusion: Is Zagor a villain, or simply misunderstood, something that I have problems viewing, which makes him a truly dynamic character.

  4. Now however, there remains arguments that Zagor isn't misunderstood, but just like his former cohorts, only that he is more discreet, patiently biding his time, waiting for the moment when they both fall and he steps up to "take the torch". That argument however can also be traced to the lack of depth that they gave him in the books.

    It has often been wondered why Zagor remains in his mountain while his cohorts find new lands to conquer. An possible interpretation for this is that he is actually biding his time, waiting for the right time to strike, but at the same time he raids villages to show that he is a force to be reckoned with. He might probably be waiting for the right moment to strike, right after his former friends are dead, that's when the "True Terror" can finally began. He was as one might say, unlucky to have been the first to fall. As it seems that the greedy adventurer got there first. Or as you said, Zagor is very good at playing one side against another, perhaps he is from behind still manipulating his former friends to achieve his goals and be driven to disaster so he could emerge unopposed. However it seems that he could not truly accomplish these goals, given his death. Through Trolltooth Wars allows him to turn on his former cohorts, the argument of "what is canon" is debatable, plus I've never read that book so I can't be one to judge.

    Zagor also cannot be responsible for the sleeping Grass on top of the mountain, they were always there. Another intrepretion of the Sleeping Grass was that he could not care or he did not know who would want to seek out the cure for a death spell, it seems that in Caverns of the Snow Witch that only the Healer knows how to deal with Death Curses, and it does not imply that Zagor left them there for helping others, but rather that he didn't care or could be long dead(I don't know the order in which the FF books take place). Therefore, it could have been that Zagor did not care about the Curse as it did not suit his interests.

    In Return to Firetop Mountain, which arguably takes place after Balthus has died and Marr consigned to eternal limbo by his creation, he talks of plunging Allansia into Chaos and the battle between him and the hero as the battle between Order and Chaos. But there is a little vagueness in that, like you said we don't know why he wants to take over Allansia and what sort of ruler he could be. So it's quite vague that he could be good or bad in the long run if he wins. Because who knows, he could be a despot or he could enlighten the world by building more schools for magic or giving Dark Wizards more tolerance.

  5. (cont from above)

    His behavior in Legend of Zagor is also kind of ambiguous. First of all, why did he transport himself to another world? Couldn't he have rebuilt himself somewhere else in the world of Titan instead? I would like to think that his soul was so battered that he lost all touch with this plane of existence and had to be sent into a sort of limbo, where he found the body of the demon, and took over. There are a couple of interpretations for what happens next IMO:

    1) Zagor overrides the demon's soul and is now a new being that wants to rule over Amarillia as a tyrant

    2) Zagor overrides the demon's soul. Now having a powerful host body that can withstand adventurers he moved into this plane of existence to be left alone. However given the fact that he merged with a evil demon that almost destroyed this new world, and given the fact that Yaztromo may want to "finish the job" by letting adventurers in that world act it doomed him to death.........this time for good.

    3) What you said above, Zagor was misunderstood and he got mixed up with the demon, who wants to destroy Amarillia. but the demon's mind is stronger and he tries to control the demon from within, waiting for the heroes to release him from his torment.

    4) Neither Zagor or the new being exist, but a new creature is born with the mixed personalities of both of their souls. That creature may try to rule the world but may try to remain relucive, depending on what personality it adapts.

    It can be said that there are many interpretations for what Zagor became and what plans this new being has in store for the world........if Zagor is evil and he took over this demon or if Zagor and the Demon merged their souls to form a new malicious lifeform then it would be proven that he is a villain, however if Zagor took over the demon and he still wants to be left alone than he is simply misunderstood, but the fact that he merged with an evil force that caused trouble in this new world and still got "unfinished business" from Titan that lead to his destruction.

    However it could be that the demon overpowered him to the end, and he is in fact trying to prevent the demon from taking over again, this would therefore make him the true hero of the story, the one who gave everything to make sure both worlds survive, a sacrifice that would go ignored as the world will still view him as a monster, not a man that wants to be left alone.

    Zagor has been known to call his opponents wretches and low-lives, however it can also be argued that in that part if what you said about the demon was correct, that it was the demon saying that. It might be also that he fought the same kind of mercenaries all these times and want a worthier challenger, perhaps Yaztromo or his former cohorts.

    So in conclusion, it would seem that whenever "Word of God" points out that Zagor is a villain there is one for Zagor being a misunderstood hero or recluse, and for every point that supports that, one that supports the opposite. Which makes it quite easy to make a lot of intresting interpretations on this character.

  6. Now for my conclusion:

    As I have said before, Zagor is a dynamic character because it's possible to always argue about his personality, it's not some nonsense fights, both sides can give good proof on his true colours. It's not some "pure good(most of the protagionsts)" or "pure evil(his cohorts and most of the other villains)" it's quite ambigious.

    In the end, my conclusion is that Zagor has a lot of potential to be a misunderstood hero and the victim of these mercenaries sent by those who despise him, but it may be because

    One might argue that it was the lack of depth in the first book that lead to these interpretations of Zagor, however, if one were to look at his track record through and through you can see a lot of interpretations and moral ambiguity.

    Therefore in conclusion, it is up to the reader to decide which side of the argument is the correct one. Until they write a story about Zagor's life that portrays him in a villainous light, it isn't totally fair to label him one and one must consider many factors about his behavior.

  7. Having just read the Warlock of Firetop Mountain, I support the CZN campaign. I feel bad for killing the poor guy. It's true that he attacked me first but I feel he had the right to defend his property from an intruder.

    There seems to be some ambiguity over whether Zagor came to Firetop Mountain because it was his ancestral home, or because he saw in a dream ( Where do these two conflicting accounts come from?

  8. @lumpkin Titan says that Zagor went to Firetop Mountain due to demon sent dreams. According to Titannica, the Trolltooth Wars novel states that Zagor's grandfather was the first member of the Zagor family to live in the mountain.

  9. @lumpkin Thanks for joining the campaign. He does have the right to protect his property.

  10. Zagor I know is an Italian comic book character created by editor and writer Sergio Bonelli (pseudonym Guido Nolitta) and artist Gallieno Ferri.