I’ve been sitting on this one for well over a year now. Apologies Dalinar, I didn’t mean to put you off for so long.
It’s been a hot minute since I took a deep dive into a Stormlight Archive character. Kaladin was one of the first characters I ever analyzed in this series and Shallan followed soon after. But I never got the chance to analyze the central character of Oathbringer.
Out of all the characters in the Stormlight Archive, Dalinar is arguably the one that’s grown the most. If you compared each version of him in each book, he’d almost seem like a completely different character. Each arc he undergoes builds on the previous one so seemlessly that he could honestly warrant several of these analyses!
But everyone only gets one. So here’s his.
The Wound: Losing Control
Dalinar’s life is much like that of any little brother. Despite his own accomplishments, Dalinar often sat in the shadow of Gavilar. The older brother always got what Dalinar wanted. He married their mutual lover, became king of the kingdom they forged, and probably a hell of a lot more.
Still, Dalinar found happiness in his life. He loved his wife and his two sons and he was content with his life as the Blackthorn. That envy of Gavilar never left him. But he was still proud to be his brother’s sword.
But then war consumed Dalinar’s life. The Thrill overcame him, driving him to bloody rampages. During one of these, he committed an act of slaughter greater than any that had come before it. One that had taken the life of his wife in the process.
Things only got worse for him from there. He became one of the most infamous alcoholics in the kingdom, taking every opportunity to drink himself into a stupor. Whether it be an ordinary day or a feast, he would be drunk.
Even on the night of his brother’s assassination.
The Want: Unite Them
Dalinar’s goal is a simple, but noble one. After his brother’s death, he sought to protect all that he had left behind. To keep Alethkar united. To keep Elhokar alive. To unite the high princes and, when the war against Odium truly begins, the world.
Unfortunately, while his desires are earnest, his methods are lacking. Mainly because he can’t find the balance between who he was, who he is, and who he thinks he needs to be.
The Lie: The Man I Must Be
Dalinar’s relationship with trauma has never been a healthy one. First was his pension for violence and warfare. Next was his alcoholism. Then he went to a literal god and asked her to just make him forget it all.
Naturally, this makes it rather difficult to deal with the troublesome reputation he’s earned for himself. He was already bad enough at being political. But he had a harder time of it than most, as those he wished to parlay with often feared him. Rightfully so, as he feared himself. Or at least, the man he was.
In his efforts to unite the world, Dalinar has attempted to wear many masks. In The Way of Kings, he attempts to be an honorable soldier, to lead by gaining the trust of his fellows and persuading them. In Words of Radiance, he goes for a much more firm, almost dictator-like approach in forcing them to do it. Then, in Oathbringer, he tries to make himself into what would comfort the other world leaders.
He was a man of several identities. A ghost from his past that haunted his every step. A fierce soldier. A politician that had no clue what he was doing. So long as one floundered, the other two would as well.
The Need: You Will Not Have My Pain
Denying agony put Dalinar in his enemy’s power. As we see with Moash (which is a topic I’ll need to get to another day), Odium places people under his control by taking away their negative emotions. By freeing them of the pain of things like guilt or responsibility. When Dalinar buried his past with the Old Magic, he may as well have opened the door to his foe. Not to mention how it caused him to struggle so against everyone else.
What Dalinar needed wasn’t to bury his past. He needed to confront it. Embrace it. Face the man he was, acknowledge him, and learn to avoid walking the same path. Only then could he truly breach the gap between the rest of the world. Only by uniting with himself could he unite the world.
And all he needed was to chat with a god or two to get there.
There’s a lot going on with the character of Dalinar Kholin. The dude’s got so much going on that I could write dozens of articles just about him. If I didn’t have about… two dozen or so other characters to analyze in this series, I would consider it.
But I’ve had an article about Elend from Mistborn on the backburner for about half a year now. Not to mention all the anime and game characters. My list is long.