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Kroll’s personality is a powerful influence in my own life, which defines me in relation to how I feel compared to others. I won’t go as far as to say he completely embodies all traits of Asperger Syndrome, but I’m sure there are similarities to be made such as with inflexibility of thought, obsessive routines, and singular determination and focus.
Why have I written an epic fantasy about a tyrant who rules the planet? Am I a tyrant? I don’t have any similar experience that can relate to Kroll’s infamy. I haven’t yet subjugated any populations, as far as I’m aware, or conquered all dominions of even our planet – not to be confused with Kroll’s planet. As writers are wont to do, I have put myself in his shoes a little, but it’s just as important to remember that Kroll: Magnificence is a story told from the point-of-view of a few characters – not just Kroll. Therefore, it’s not just about an evil tyrant’s struggle to extend his sorcery and further his control over the realm; it’s also about the fight against Kroll!
To get some perspective and insight, I need to attempt to critically examine my own personality and motives against Kroll’s. Kroll’s struggle to come to terms with the fact that he doesn’t understand everything about his realm is extremely difficult for him to even consider, never mind accept. Our ruler, as his creator does, has an inflexible mind. He was once an alchemist, but when he invents sorcery, he sees an opportunity to empower and liberate himself from the teachers he detests. As he develops sorcery, to combat alchemy, he latches onto its principles and importance in determining the fate of the realm. Indeed, he becomes so engrossed in extending his knowledge in sorcery that his concept of the realm and the state of his sorcery are synonymous. And so, for two thousand years, it has determined how he thinks, lives, and all courses of action he takes are measured against it. Any contradictions to his drive or will to succeed using sorcery are seen as deliberate attempts to undermine or thwart him.
His strong interest in understanding and unravelling its intricacies lead to obsession, and he soon forgets about the world outside, his realm, for so long that he loses any empathy and understanding of the life of mortals. In the ancient past, he had deliberately set himself against the men and women of society, and his obsession can be seen as a protective or comforting retreat from frustration, lack of understanding, and mistreatment. But even now in the present he has, unwittingly, severed all ties with mortals and reinforced his isolation from them.
You will have noticed I use the word mortals, partly because Kroll sees himself as superior to them because of the value he ascribes to the achievements that made him ruler. It’s also because he has successfully lived for two thousand years, where they haven’t. (Or has he?). When things start to go wrong in the realm, as they do, Kroll starts to doubt himself and his understanding of sorcery. What he doesn’t see and grasp is that life is not all about sorcery. There is a part of him that deeply fears this fact and the thought itself haunts him at intervals, because he is afraid if he lets go of sorcery then all of his power and achievements will fade to nothing, and his empire will crumble. (Empire crumble: how tasty!).
There is also a hidden part of him that knows that the most problematic thing that can happen after his tyranny with sorcery would be for him to latch onto another system of power that he would believe to contain more truth or importance than the last. For Kroll, the torment is an everlasting cycle of incomprehension and nail-biting frustration. Why Kroll needs to learn about the way the world works is both a fascination and a huge error in the way he thinks. Let’s face it: in any world you can’t apply your knowledge of a single subject to everything that exists, without oppression, but in the story Kroll is both unable and reluctant to change to suit mortals he doesn’t care about.
Did Kroll take the right path?
Estranged from other people, he has only had to rely on himself, and as a result he has crafted a system for self-provision that he believes is successful. His interactions with others are mostly to do with imposing his will, or setting them inside the framework of the concept of sorcery. It makes sense to Kroll to see others in the context of his latest and most successful system of sorcery. I suppose what he lacks is empathy or a basic understanding of the needs of the mortals in the realm, whose struggle against him in many ways resembles the struggle he had against evil in the ancient past. As is implied at some stages in the story, Kroll sees glimpses of the lives people who look similar to him have and often wonders if or how he could have lived them. Would it have been possible for him to (as he sees it) settle for less? People think he had the chance to become like them, but that because of how he was treated in his youth, he took a path of no-return.
The mortal struggle against Kroll
In a sense, I must have wanted to also write about a tyrant because there was a part of me who wanted to know how to defeat him – to defeat the inflexible, obsessive, uncompromising mind-set. His control over the realm is not pleasant for the other characters, whose fates are known by and determined by Kroll’s sorcery creation: the Orthodoxy. The other characters, though in essence mortal, were gifted by sorcery attributes given to them by Kroll to help him control and maintain his realm effectively. These other characters are referred to as Classes by Kroll, but they themselves aren’t aware of their powerful potential. When things go wrong with the Orthodoxy, the Classes’ sorcery attributes are unintentionally bolstered. Naturally, Kroll is terrified of being challenged by mortals that have grown in knowledge and power, especially his doppelganger Dacron, because this was how Kroll lived as a youth a long time ago.
Is there any hope for Kroll?
The problem with Kroll’s mind in focusing on single encompassing subjects like sorcery is that he easily gets overwhelmed when more than one big problem afflicts him, and like a coward he retreats because he doesn’t know how to effectively respond. He can send his armies and mages out, but because of his absolute control over the realm, it’s only really Kroll who can make a significant difference. And when Kroll does fight back, it is typically with such ruthlessness and ignorance that it backfires and distances him further from his kind. But at least, he tells himself, he has solved the problem!
There is a time during the story when Kroll has a discussion with a prominent alchemist – the faction of magicians that opposes Kroll’s establishment. The alchemist is trying to help Kroll’s inflexibility by suggesting Kroll be more open-minded to other viewpoints about their planet. As you can imagine, this does backfire because Kroll doesn’t want to be contradicted or challenged in how he sees, rules, and lives his life. It does, however, plant a seed of doubt in Kroll that may rise to dismantle his preconceptions. My question is, is this a good thing or a bad?
As Alex James, writer and founder of Kroll: Magnificence, I honestly don’t know whether I am happy if Kroll succeeds or fails. When I first started writing the story, I focused on Kroll’s background and his drive to make further inroads with his conquest – even to dream of capturing the stars. It was intended as a way to understand and justify Kroll’s outlook and behaviour, so I must have seen a reason to do so for my own sake.
Kroll needed to be properly challenged and contradicted. Is he really a necessary part of the realm?
Then it became important to think about how others would live in Kroll’s current realm, even when he tightens his grip on it. At this time, I saw how detrimental it was to the mortal characters, and I sympathised with their plight. Dacron fears he will become somebody like Kroll because of his fate and how other alchemists perceive him. Lacos, a privileged country soldier, has his family captured by Kroll’s soldiers, and he is betrayed by Kroll simply because Kroll decides country soldiers are no longer needed and represent a part of his realm he has less control over. Jade is captured and seduced by Kroll against her will because she is the most formidable alchemist, and Kroll is no longer content to keep her as a check in the system. You can see the harmful effects of Kroll’s whim in many scenes. By working together, the mortals are much more effective at navigating multiple problems.
My later writing explored how the mortals would work together to defeat Kroll in a realistic way. What powers would they use, and how would they plan to defeat him and save their partners or families? I looked at how I could move the story forward – what would life be like in a world without Kroll for my mortal characters? I also added a pinch of doubt regarding if Kroll really knew what was best for himself, and that maybe if he surrendered a bit of his power he could return trust and earn forgiveness. Of course, the overarching principle here is whether Kroll would ever really break free from the everlasting cycle, which both strengthens him as a ruler and yet inhibits him socially and morally. I don’t yet have the answer to that, but maybe I will in a possible second book…