(This is part of my Elfquest re-read. There will be spoilers.)
It’s tempting to see Winnowill as an aberration, because in many ways she is. No character in this series, be they elven, human, troll, or Preserver, ever comes close to her level of persistent malice. But in focusing on her, it’s easy to lose sight of something else:
The Gliders as a whole are seriously messed up.
Let’s take a look at them individually. I can’t remember whether anyone else gets named in Siege at Blue Mountain and The Secret of Two-Edge (I think Reevol is the only one?), but in this volume we get Winnowill, Tyldak, Kureel, Aroree, Lord Voll, Egg, Brace, and the two Doors. The first is a villain; the second and third are arrogant jerks; Lord Voll is mired in complete passivity and then, when he rises out of it at last, kidnaps children as hostages for his dream. Aroree is the closest thing to a “good guy” in that lot, and she’s not what you’d call reliable about it. As for the others . . . on this re-read, I found myself trying to imagine their backstories. Egg I can kind of understand as an obsessive artist, losing himself in the beautiful, endless challenge of his work. Brace, though — with endless time to work in, he hasn’t managed to reshape things permanently to keep the mountain from falling on their heads? But the two Doors are the one that really boggle me. I can think of no image more emblematic of the Gliders’ social and psychological petrification than the Doors sitting in their niches, letting the centuries roll by while they do nothing other than shape the stone open and shut. How stultifying must their lives have been, to make devoting themselves to that job sound like a good idea?
It’s fascinating to me because although the Gliders are not High Ones in the strict sense — none of them, not even Lord Voll, remember the palace first-hand — their stated goal was to re-create those lost glories, and so they have a better claim to that title than anyone except Timmain. And what have they created? A sterile, claustrophobic world with so little to recommend it, some of their members would rather go into a trance for the rest of eternity than continue to engage.
And the thing is, we don’t know if that’s the Gliders Doing It Wrong or not. The other tribes speak of the High Ones with reverence. But does that mean they were good and wonderful people? Their own predecessors seem not to have been, what with using up their homeworld and all. I seem to recall the trolls later claiming that their rebellion happened because of how the High Ones were treating them — a claim that gets disputed, maybe? The details have slipped my mind, but I have this feeling that the High Ones were paternalistic toward the trolls, and not in any admirable sense of the word. Their crash landing on the World of Two Moons is their mythical Fall, but they weren’t necessarily innocent before it happened.
Because if humans aren’t all bad, the corollary is that elves aren’t all good. Cutter had his disputes with Rayek in the first volume, but that didn’t shake his belief in elven unity. (As well it shouldn’t: there must have been nasty interpersonal conflicts among the Wolfriders from time to time. Two-Spear, for example.) He comes into Blue Mountain with the conviction that anybody with pointy ears is not just a fellow member of his species, but someone with whom he shares “one heart and one mind.” That conviction takes a more or less fatal beating here, not just because of Winnowill, but because of the Gliders as a whole. They look on his tribe with contempt; Tyldak and Dewshine Recognize, but achieve no harmony between themselves; even Lord Voll, who is in some respects a sympathetic figure, sees nothing wrong with forcing his ambitions on everyone else. He could have shared his vision of the palace with them all when everyone was still in Blue Mountain, and they might have followed him willingly. Instead he absconds with their chief and two children, in a paternalistic belief that if they just follow him, they’ll see that he is right.
There is no real melding of the tribes, as there was with the Sun Folk. Aroree never truly integrates with the Wolfriders, and Dewshine doesn’t stay behind at Blue Mountain. The Gliders cannot change, not en masse and for the most part not individually, either. Their story as a tribe ends in death. (As Winnowill once knew it would: she tried long ago to persuade Voll that they needed to change and grow and engage with the outside world. But she failed, and this is the result.) And so we’re left with an unanswered question: how much like the High Ones were the Gliders? Bad copies, a mockery of not only the true power but also the true worth of their forebears? Or were they in fact quite a lot like the High Ones . . . implying that the change forced on their species by the World of Two Moons was, in the long run, a good thing?