Origins of the Norn
In the largest mountain range upon Tyria’s surface dwells an individualistic race of fighters known as the norn. Called half-giants and standing at 9 feet tall with a very human appearance, and capable of transforming into half-animal forms, the origins of these norn have been of some debate for some time. Why do they appear similar to other races? Are there shared roots between the norn and other races, and if so which races do they share a common ancestor with and which do they not? There are quite a few theories, but three among them stand out above the rest. Each theory has deep background for complete understanding and as I cannot include all of such here, I shall list citations for those wishing to further read upon these ideas and reasons.
The first theory is one proposed by the kodan – specifically their Voices – and is generally disagreed with by contemporary scholars, and some even go so far as to claim it propaganda to suit the kodan’s own purposes. This theory is based upon the likeness between the kodan and the norn’s commonly known Bear Form, claiming that the norn devolved from the kodan taking up a lesser form as their normal appearance – most likely based on the idea of falling out of favor of Koda.
The story goes that during an ancient event in kodan history that is only referred to as “the great storm,” one of the many clans of the kodan was left without a Voice, simply having a Claw to lead them. This clan, desperate for food, left for the south to hunt during this month-long blizzard but was never heard from again. It is believed by some that the norn originate from this clan, perhaps linking the hunter lifestyle of the norn to the militaristic duties of the Claw.
The second theory, though the oldest and one that dates back to when the norn were first discovered by the southern races, ties the norn to their direct appearance’s counterpart: humanity. Though immediately based on the physical appearance of the norn, this theory made its headway by the insistence of Olaf Olafson and his daughter on marrying, and eventually having children with, certain human heroes from the south, implying that the norn knew of (or at least suspected) a closeness between the races. Though the theory has had its bumps in the road – such as the possibility of offspring between the two being proven wrong – the theory still stands firm.
This idea follows upon the idea of evolution, suspecting that when humans arrived on Tyria from the south in 205 BE, a group of them traveled into the Shiverpeak Mountains and continued traveling north while the rest settled in Orr and eventually Ascalon and Kryta. This group, to withstand the cold temperatures, adapted to withholding body heat better (such as growing in size), and due to the fierce wildlife they gained a superiority-through-might society (which became their desire for becoming legends), and likewise eventually gained a different faith due to the distance from the gods that lived in Arah.
Even the vast cultural difference is explained by this theory as humanity, due to its diverse spacing, has large variances in cultures – from Krytan to Kurzick to Vabbian to Ascalonian, and perhaps many more yet unknown to us nowadays. If one would to try to link one of the known human cultures to the norn, in an attempt to find a common ancestor within the humans, one could most easily look to the Luxons. While seafaring in origin, the Luxons and norn hold many similarities. To touch upon it lightly: they are both individualistic and nomadic by nature and value competition and ability in combat. Both also revere nature based spirits; though many know of the Spirits of the Wild, not as many know that the mighty kraken known as Zhu Hanuku is constantly referred to as a “sea spirit” and that it only has flesh due to the Jade Wind’s corruption. Yet despite these similarities there are an equal amount of differences.
One main argument against the idea of the norn coming from humans in general is the norn’s relationship with the charr – given the expansionistic nature of the charr, and their hatred for the humans that began no later than 100 BE, it would seem unlikely that the charr would not hold hatred for humans in the Far Shiverpeaks. As such, this argument goes on to say that the norn had to be radically different since they met the charr for the feline race to consider the individualistic hunters a different race. An issue with this argument lies in exactly when the charr and norn met, as the only timeframe we’re given is 200 years before the Searing (effectively 1,000 years after the proto-norn could have moved into the mountains).
The third and final theory is one that has recently appeared among contemporary scholars. When famous scribes had compiled the history and culture of the mountain-dwelling jotun, scholars almost immediately began seeing similarities between the jotun and the norn. As a fellow scholar nearby was more knowing of this particular aspect, I let him fill in the details:
Part of this similarity is in their size, but more telling is their cultural similarities – both take obsession with proving their strength and a reverence for individual heroics to a level matched by few other races, with neither willing to follow a leader that has not proven themselves. While the two races express this in different ways – the norn through a mostly friendly competition to bag the biggest trophies in contrast to the all-out war with themselves that destroyed jotun civilisation – and there are other differences, there is enough in common for some to wonder if this is due to the jotun having been the ancestors of, or at least a strong influence on, the norn. Some have postulated that the natural norn ability to transform may even be a remnant of old jotun magic, lost by modern jotun but retained by norn.
There are a number of ways in which this could have come about. One is that the norn could have been a servitor race of the jotun, possibly created through a blending (likely magical) of jotun features with another race – the dwarves have been raised as a possibility due to the dwarflike builds and some of the dwarflike behaviours (especially a love of drinking) shown by some norn. An alternative is that a splinter group of the jotun recognised the insanity of what was happening to their race and chose another path, their size having been magically reduced as part of making a clean break from their wild kin.
Of course, it’s just as plausible that the jotun could have influenced the norn without having been directly related. If the norn dwelled in the Shiverpeaks at the time the jotun were ascendant, it would likely have been in one of two ways – as slaves to the jotun (allowing jotun attitudes to rub off on them)… or as fugitives, in constant hiding from the all-powerful giant-kings. In this latter scenario, the norn preference for acting alone or in small hunting parties could simply be an evolved response with any resemblance to jotun attitudes being entirely coincidental – any large settlements or gatherings would have been prime targets for crushing by their larger, more powerful and organised neighbours. Under those circumstances, it’s easy to see how a culture that prizes self-sufficiency, individuality, and the ability to defeat larger foes could have developed regardless of ancestry.
The Fourth Possibility
Despite these three theories and their high support, there is one possibility many seem to ignore, and such would probably make every norn frown. To put in the simple words of a norn: “Norn are norn.”
That is to say, just as norn may derive from humans, kodan, or jotun, we must also remember that they may not come from any. A simple reminder to all who would theorize and speculate that sometimes the correct answer is nothing more than “it just is.”