Elder Scrolls Lore Report - Savos Awry, the Great Escape, and Magic Farts

We’ve all played the College of Winterhold questline. We all know Savos Aren is a respected mage – obviously, considering his position as Arch-Mage – but we also all see how unimpressive he ends up throughout the course of the game. His rather abrupt death during the encounter with Ancano just feels…underwhelming. As the questline progresses, it seems more prudent that Mirabelle or even Tolfdir should have been Arch-Mage, not Savos. Obviously, when we explore Labyrinthian and the ruins of Bromjunaar, we get some inkling of an insight as to what Savos did during his time as a Scholar, but his encounter with Morokei did not result in anything deeming him qualified to be Arch-Mage. So what, exactly, made Savos Aren worthy of being Arch-Mage? And who was he before the College?




In truth, Savos Aren, though a gifted conjurer, Savos Aren was not the most capable mage at the College – whether in his time as an Apprentice or later, as Arch-Mage. His area of expertise, though notable, was not in magic; rather, he excelled in politics. His career began when the Psijic Order was still around, before they – and their remote island of Artaeum – had vanished. When Savos Aren was an apprentice, the Psijics still had an advisor to the Arch-Mage of the College of Winterhold on campus. In Fourth Era Year 98, an unprecedented catastrophic event plagued Nirn for two years. Nirn’s two moons – Masser and Secunda – abruptly vanished from the skies. This event is believed to have been part of the direct cause of the Great War. While the Empire viewed this event – referred to as the Void Nights – with great fear, it was far worse in Elsweyr, where the Khajiit, whose very way of life depends entirely on the phases of the moon; most notably, the status of the moon when a Khajiit is born determines their breed. The moons remained gone until Fourth Era Year 100, when they mysteriously reappeared. The Thalmor announced they had restored the moons using forgotten Dawn Magicks, but it’s not clear if they actually restored the moons or simply had known about this event prior and understood the moons would return.




There’s a lot of political rhetoric and heresy involved with the Void Nights – in particular, it’s often theorized, if not outright assumed, that the Thalmor caused the event to take full control of Elsweyr and begin tearing apart the Cyrodiilic empire – but rather than go into detail about the Thalmor and the event, let’s stay focused on the Psijics. Though their activities during the event are rather unknown, or at least obscured, we do know the Psijics were devoted to the main principles of magic; in this case, specifically, one of those principles is the law of transition. Azurah in Khajiiti culture is revered as one of the moons itself, and the Dunmer worship Azura as the herald of the twilight, the one who dictates when day changes to night and when night changes to day. This transition cannot happen without the moons – celestially speaking; as far as actual astronomy, night is simply when the sun disappears from the horizon as the planet rotates, but the Elder Scrolls Cosmology is not designed this way, the sun – Magnus – is always shining on Nirn until Azura decides it isn’t, which is why the sun and both moons are always visible; trying to stay on topic, so I’ll get off Azura for now – so when the moons vanished, one can assume the Psijics devoted their efforts to restoring the moons. If they succeeded, if the Thalmor succeeded, or if the moons simply returned on their own is not relevant. What is relevant is that, after this event, the Thalmor, who had successfully supplanted the king of Alinor and taken control of the Summerset Isles in full. What was one of their first acts as the new leaders of the Aldmeri Dominion? To mark the Psijic Order as a traitorous organization and brand them outlaws. And what happened? The Psijic Order and the Isle of Artaeum vanished from Mundus. All of this happened in Fourth Era Year 100, and we meet Savos Aren, a student of the College while the Psijics still maintained a presence, in Fourth Era Year 201, over a hundred years later.




The point is that Savos was a student during the Void Nights and was most probably born during the change of the century, or not long after. Dunmer reach maturity not much longer after humans, somewhere around 18 to 25 years of age. It’s theoretically plausible that Savos Aren left Morrowind in his twenties and joined the College of Winterhold not much longer after that. Logically, the oldest he might have been when he joined the College would be in his thirties – however, this is contradicted by the existence of Brelyna Maryon, a Dunmer of House Telvanni who was sent to Skyrim by her parents to study at the College, and the UESP lists her age as 112 during the events of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Obviously, a lot of tension happened between the people of Skyrim and mages as a whole during the Great Collapse, and we know Savos Aren became Arch-Mage sometime after the Great Collapse, so its entirely possible Brelyna’s parents waited to send her until a Dunmer took office, but this doesn’t explain why they would wait until she’s over 100, since that would mean she could have been in Winterhold before the Great Collapse. This suggests that Savos Aren arrived at the College prior to the Void Nights when he was much older, and possibly already acquainted with the nuances of Skyrim. Whatever the case, we know Savos is well over 100 years old when we meet him in game and he had enough time to study with the grey cloak at the College, at least in some small capacity, and we know this because of the events that unfold in the questline itself, which leads us to Bromjunaar and his now famous clash with Morokei.


12356352898?profile=RESIZE_710x(the echoes of Savos Aren's party outside Bromjunaar, as seen in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim)


Sometime after the Void Nights but before the Great Collapse, during his later years as a student of the College, Savos Aren and five other students – Atmah, Girduin, Takes-In-Light, Hafnar Ice-Fist, and Elvali Veren. Atmah was a Redguard sorceress who was touted as the Arch-Mage’s favorite, told to us by a line of dialogue meant to be at the beginning of the Staff of Magnus quest that went unused by the vanilla game. Girduin was a Bosmer sorcerer and was the first of the party to die, being killed by the skeletal dragon. Takes-In-Light was an Argonian sorceress and was the last of the party to die before the final chamber that contained Morokei. Hafnar Ice-Fist was a Nord mage of unknown merit and ended up as one of the shades imprisoning Morokei, alongside Atmah. Elvali was a Dunmer sorceress who was taken from behind, the second to die during the quest. As the group ventured through Bromjunaar, they were filled with an increasing sense of dread – only made more potent as their companions died one by one. Upon reaching the final chamber, whereupon they encountered Morokei, in more unused dialogue, Savos apparently could feel the Dragon Priest behind the doors and knew this would be their end. In fact, more unused dialogue suggests that it was only because of Savos that they kept going, that he kept convincing them they would make it through, and yet he, himself, did not believe they would. Somehow, using forgotten magick, he tethered Atmah and Hafnar’s souls to Morokei, using them as a source of power to erect a barrier around Morokei that the Dragon Priest couldn’t break free from – ironic, when you consider he wielded the Staff of Magnus that drains magic; in-game lore suggests the Staff could have easily broken through the barrier – and then he declared Labyrinthian itself off-limits to the College and took the Torc of Labyrinthian – basically the key to the entrance of the ruins – and kept it safe, both as a way to keep others from making his mistake and also so he would never forget his shame.


12356353466?profile=RESIZE_710x(the College of Winterhold and surrounding Winterhold after the Great Collapse, as seen in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim)


As for the Great Collapse and Savos Aren’s ascension to Arch-Mage, it’s rather straightforward, actually. As an expert in politics, when the Great Collapse happened and much of Winterhold was destroyed, Savos Aren was a key factor in ensuring as much of both Winterhold itself and the College survived. He helped the people rebuild what they could, salvage what they could, and get rid of what they couldn’t. He’s the reason the College even still stands – without his leadership, it’s not unthinkable that Winterhold would have demanded the College vacate and be destroyed, since they believed the College was responsible for the Great Collapse – and Savos himself, despite knowing the truth, allowed them to feel that way, knowing that a general distrust of the mages, though not entirely beneficial, would help guarantee new members would be devoted to magic, rather than seeking glory.




Eventually, the Thalmor Ancano was appointed Savos Aren’s advisor – for reasons we do not know, despite Aren’s unceasing attempt to keep the College neutral, he accepted this counsel he did not want – and Ancano would inevitably lead to Savos Aren’s demise. Shortly after joining the College, the unnamed apprentice discovers the Eye of Magnus, which Ancano takes to immediately when he learns of it. Whether by his own volition or at the urging of the Thalmor, Ancano manipulated the Eye to enhance his magickal prowess, turning the College into a warzone. His meddling led the Psijics to intervene and assist the unnamed apprentice in restoring the balance of magick to the College, but not before Ancano caused a massive surge of arcane energy to spew from the Eye, the resulting explosion killing both Mirabelle Irvine – the Master Wizard – and Savos Aren. As his protégé, the unnamed apprentice undoes Savos Aren’s greatest failure, retrieves the Staff of Magnus, defeats Ancano, and restores peace to Tamriel, upon which the Psijics suggest this unnamed apprentice become the new Arch-Mage.


What little we know of Savos Aren suggested a prolific speaker and a skilled mage, but his greatest asset with gaining allies. He studied a bit with one of the Psijics, enough to know about the Staff of Magnus and Shalidor’s Insights. He took command of the College during a time when Nords thought magic was heresy. He convinced a ragtag group of mages to explore the ruins of Bromjunaar so he could get his hands on the Staff of Magnus – though he ultimately failed, his failure paved the way for the unnamed apprentice to retrieve it in his stead. He suffered from what we all do: born to late to make pioneering discoveries in the realm of magic, born too soon to become a new legend.

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Fimvul is the current master of the Skyforge Library. Interested in the Elder Scrolls from a young age, he has been diving headfirst into the richer aspects of the lore of the series for over a decade. With years of experience and research under his belt, he hopes to enlighten his readers with the wondrous mystery that surrounds the Elder Scrolls universe.

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