Solas went from being a fairly underwhelming character to one with a large and somewhat obsessive following even before the game was released. Somehow the character just appealed to people: an apostate hedge mage who had joined the inquisition of freewill to stop the breach.
** SPOILERS ** SPOILERS ** SPOILERS **
And to a significant extent, this was exactly what Bioware wanted him to be. Not only did they avoid emphasizing him within the promotional content, but they intentionally downplayed him. He was designed to look like a monk and his natural introversion was emphasized. He showed up in the background of Varric’s trailer and his own trailer was just a still image with narration.
So when playing the game itself, people were naturally surprised to find that the character actually had quite a lot of screen time… and that the character wasn’t exactly what he appeared to be at first. He wasn’t an awkward, shy apostate; he was confident, charming and appeared to be supremely in control of the situation. Many players grew a fondness for this character, only to discover at the very end that he was, well…
Solas was actually the most major character in the entire game. He was the one who had set the events of the game into motion. He was an ancient God who has lived and slumbered for thousands of years. And it’s not evident in the game at all, but for clever bits of foreshadowing that no one could possibly notice until their second play. It’s an absolutely stunning piece of writing and absolutely carefully crafted.
Making this even more complicated, Bioware added a late stage romance to the game. In fact, some people don’t realize that Solas only has a single scene with the Inquisitor that is romance-locked (besides a brief scene in Wicked Hearts which is easily missed). All of the other scenes that Solas has during an Inquisitor Romance are actually available to anyone with high approval; the only unique portions occur as “heart prompts” and measure out to perhaps ten additional lines of dialogue. So the majority of the “romance” Solas has is really in the very last cutscene (a couple of minutes of time) and a few seconds of the other cutscenes! Amazing, considering the amount of interest it garnered.
Solas (or Fen’harel) Before the Breach
Lore is vague (perhaps intentionally so), but it is stated that Fen’harel was the only person who could walk between the Ancient Gods and the Elven Gods, who were both parts of the pantheon of the Elven people, but the Ancient Gods were “dark” gods which represented bad things, and the Elven Gods were seen as protectors. Lore states that the Ancient Gods and Elven Gods were warring. Fen’harel told the Ancient Gods that he would trick the Elven Gods; the Ancient Gods would appear to be defeated, Fen’harel would seal the Elven Gods away and then the Ancient Gods would be free to do whatever. But Fen’harel double-crossed everyone and sealed both the Ancient Gods and Elven Gods away… and then he slumbered. For a while.
That is the lore, but it’s implied in the Temple of Mythal that the Elven Gods were actually warring against each other. The Elven Gods kept slaves which they marked with vallaslin and they were warring their people to death. Fen’harel is a god of rebellion and a god of the people; he sealed them away, presumably, to protect his people. But then he slumbered (we are never told why) and while he was slumbering they fell apart. The only Elven God left was Mythal, who was killed before the others were locked away (it is implied it may have been related). Mythal survived in a brief form in Flemeth, the Witch of the Wilds. She was able to accrue power when Fen’harel slept but, for whatever reason, did not seem inclined to help the elves.
Fen’harel awoke but he was too weak to actually do much of anything. So he handed his orb, a foci of ancient power, to Corypheus in hopes that Corypheus would be able to open a pathway to the Golden City. Most assume Fen’harel was interested in awakening the gods, but this may not be true. All we know is that he gave Corypheus the orb and when Corypheus tried to open it, the breach was accidentally opened and the Inquisitor was marked.
Solas After the Breach
After his “Oh shit,” moment, Solas quickly sought out the breach and ran into Cassandra there. He then pledged his help to the Inquisition in hopes of using them to get the orb back from Corypheus. He states as much with the Inquisitor during their second conversation: he mentions that he wants to get the orb back. So this isn’t exactly a subtle thing. He also talks to the Inquisitor again after Haven asking about the orb! Literally at every turn Solas is talking about this orb, yet most players will be none the wiser.
Bioware officially stated: “Solas has spent his life as an apostate, living in the wilderness well away from the civilized world and those who would shackle him for what he is. He mastered his magic without the help of tutors, spending years exploring the spirit realm of the Fade and coming to an understanding of its denizens that few others could claim. He would be happiest left alone to sleep in ancient ruins, searching for memories and knowledge that has been lost for ages, but the Breach in the sky threatens all worlds.
At a time when other mages flee into hiding, Solas has put his freedom at risk by emerging from the shadows to assist those who would combat the chaos. He will not stand idly by when his knowledge of the arcane could mean the difference between salvation and utter destruction. “
Solas must have had to craft his identity on the fly. The Inquisitor was discovered with a mark on their hand and Solas knew what it was and that it could close the breach if the Inquisitor awakened. Thus, Solas did everything he could to try to guide the Inquisitor because the Inquisitor was his only hope. Once Corypheus was defeated and the orb was broken, however… Solas had no choice but to move on.
Solas and His Motivations
After the destruction of the orb, Solas goes to Flemythal and takes her power. He states “the people still need me.” Mythal knows exactly what Solas is going to do and seems to be content with it. Moreover, it’s implied she couldn’t really stop him if she wanted; the design notes state that Solas is willing to kill her, and Mythal doesn’t even bother fighting it. But it’s not stated what Solas actually wants to do. He could be freeing the other gods. But he also may be interested in taking the throne himself. After all, it’s the other gods who destroyed the world.
Interestingly, if the Dalish inquisitor is romancing Solas, Solas will remove her vallaslin and explain to her that they were slave markings. These slave markings were linked to each God, but Fen’harel did not have any vallaslin; he did not keep slaves. When he removes the vallaslin (he says “I know a spell”), he says to the Inquisitor “You are free.” It’s likely that Fen’harel had done this many times before; he was strongly against slavery and for the people. Again, he would have no interest in restoring that prior world.
Solas and the Maker
An interesting connection to make is the one between Solas and the Maker. In Dragon Age: Inquisition, we learn that Fen’harel is the one who sealed the Ancient Gods (who many believe are also the Old Gods of Tevinter) away. But the story of the Maker states that The Maker sealed those gods away. It is said that Andraste was once a slave who escaped Tevinter and led a rebellion after being spoken to by the Maker. Andraste was eventually betrayed by her husband out of jealousy and the Maker, upset by this, turned away from humanity and slumbered.
So we know there are some major parallels here between Fen’harel and the Maker. Fen’harel certainly would have reached out to an escaped slave from Tevinter and Tevinter kept elven slaves; though Andraste is depicted as a human woman, it has been mentioned that the Chantry had a habit of hiding the ears of elves in their lore. Andraste took an elven lover and the elven lover’s ears were “docked” in paintings. Andraste is often referenced as potentially being a powerful mage. She also very much sided with the elves. Andraste may have been an elven slave and she certainly would have been a prime candidate to be helped by Fen’harel.
Every time Andraste is depicted, also, it is with long, flowing hair covering both her ears. It is possible that this was intentionally done, to hide the appearance of her elven ears.
It would also explain what occurred and why Fen’harel slumbered. It is perhaps too much of a coincidence that both Fen’harel and the Maker are said to have begun slumbering for hundreds of years, after all. And the fact that sealing away the dark Gods is attributed to The Maker while we know in canon that it was Fen’harel is a little complicated.
The only thing holding this back from being a viable theory is that David Gaider has stated that the Maker’s existence will never be denied or confirmed. But to attribute a single myth of the Maker to Fen’harel would not be to deny his existence, it would only be to say that the Maker didn’t do this particular thing.
Solas, Wolves and Mythal
The Eluvian gate that Mythal is using when Solas appears to her in the last scene of the game has both a statue of Fen’harel (a wolf) and a statue of Mythal (a dragon). But this is interesting in itself because Solas and Mythal are the only two gods depicted as something other than elves. This could make one wonder if perhaps they aren’t the same as the elven gods to begin with. It is noted that Solas could move between the Ancient Gods and the Elven Gods like no other and the ancient Gods appear to be ancient Dragons. Flemeth as Mythal shapeshifts into a dragon and Solas puts wolves freaking everywhere.
Indeed, ancient lore seems to indicate Fen’harel may have physically been a wolf, making references to him “chewing out of ropes.” So he may have been a shapeshifter like Flemeth but, of course, there would be no reason for him to turn into a wolf at any particular time.
An interesting thing, however, is that after the fall of Haven when the Inquisitor is trying to find their way through the encampment in the snow, there is a wolf howling consistently. It seems odd that Solas wouldn’t be concerned about the loss of the Inquisitor, yet he isn’t with Cullen’s search party when the Inquisitor is found. It’s possible he actually is with the Inquisitor the entire time… but in another form.
Interesting Banter Events
Cassandra will actually question Solas as to why he was so close when the breach occurred, but by the end of the conversation she remarks that it was “Lucky for the inquisition” and doesn’t seem to be unconvinced. He has a very convincing answer, in any case: he claims that he, as an apostate, wanted to know how The Conclave was going but was afraid to get too close. It makes absolute sense… yet…
Iron Bull will comment that Solas is very competent for a self-taught mage. Solas will simply write this off as Iron Bull not really understanding what would make a mage’s magic flow.
Cole will talk about the possessed wolves in the Hinterlands, and Solas will respond that wolves are very often misunderstood. Of course Fen’harel is most often depicted as a wolf.
Most interestingly, after the Inquisitor and Solas break up, Cole will mention that Solas is worried because he’s been sleeping for some time, and he isn’t certain that anything is “real.” If he believes it’s real, he cannot go.
Concept Art and Designs
Solas’ concept art was far more aggressive than what we ultimately received, which is interesting and definitely contributed to Bioware ENTIRELY FOOLING US. We can see that they eventually moved towards a more monk aesthetic, potentially to make him seem less threatening. He almost always appeared in furs in the initial concept art, which was certainly climate appropriate but may have been taken out both because it made him look a little wild and because it visually mimics Cullen’s fur coat. In fact, his current design actually does have a fur trim, but it’s almost unnoticeable.
This is made rather entertaining by the fact that Dorian and Solas can argue about clothing in a few banters. In the initial concept art, Solas’ outfit was more out there than Dorian’s. You can see from the start that they definitely wanted him to be wearing the jaw bone, but interestingly the whole “no shoes for me” look only occurred in one character. The character design they ultimately settled on certainly had an impact on how people viewed him. Comparisons were made to Spock and Nosferatu and very few people thought they would like the mild-mannered character at all.